Y ou’re on a luxury cruise, sipping an ice-cold beer at one of the half-dozen bars scattered throughout the ship and winding down with friends before dinner. You booked a table for the second seating of the evening at the onboard steakhouse, which is rumored to be superb. You hope to meet the captain.
This cruise-ship scenario may seem mundane, but actually isn't -- because you're in space. And this isn't just any old space cruise; this one's taking you and hundreds of other well-heeled passengers on a six-month journey from a dying Earth to Mars, which you'll call home for the rest of your life.
Roll your eyes, but it's not entirely science fiction. Sure, a high-end space cruise to a colonized Mars is still decades, if not centuries, away. The soonest that NASA projects it’ll be ready to send its best-trained astronauts to the Red Planet is the 2030s, and even that timeline is ambitious, given the enormous engineering challenges involved with safely transporting people in a vehicle capable of traveling nearly 34 million miles away from Earth.
A home-cooked meal could be the difference between sanity and hysteria in space.
I t’s no secret that most “space food” is pretty nasty, that oddly delicious freeze-dried “astronaut ice cream” you bought on field trips to the science museum notwithstanding. It’s undoubtedly come a long way since early astronauts were getting by on tubes of goo, but just one look at the space version of a cheeseburger -- essentially a flour tortilla smeared with Cheez Whiz and haphazardly arranged chunks of mystery meat -- is enough to ruin your appetite. Beyond having a years-long shelf life, the food that’s engineered on Earth and schlepped into space has to be incredibly light and compact so as not to dramatically interfere with the weight and spatial requirements for launch, hence the reason nearly every meal and beverage in space comes from a flat pouch.
Where the hell would one get enough water to sustain crops for an entire colony?
T hough NASA is meal-planning Mars trips and investigating deep-space food solutions, it's understandably less focused on providing a Mars-bound crew with great food than it is with, well, getting them there in the first place. Its ever-slimming budget will soon be going to actually building the rockets, landers, and technology that will bring humans to the Red Planet. And even the future of the International Space Station -- where critical food and crop research is done -- is uncertain beyond 2024, when NASA plans to quit funding it and fully dedicate its resources to its Journey to Mars. Mostly made up of “proving ground” missions (orbiting the moon and an attempt to redirect an asteroid, among others), this project is meant to test the viability of a longer-duration mission while still remaining in relative proximity to Earth, where a crew could more easily be rescued should equipment or other issues arise. However, the defunding of the ISS may ultimately not lead to the demise of the quest for decent food in space: The government is banking on the commercial sector stepping in to finance the ISS going forward, and companies like Space X and Blue Origin will exploit the existing infrastructure to test their various vehicles and projects.
This marks a first for a major food or drink brand: The intent is to better understand how its product can be made in space.