The diet planned for astronauts traveling on Orion spacecraft-the first crewed mission of NASA to Mars has come under the limelight for the sheer variety and nimble nature of the food.
The plan is to offer high-calorie food bars, which is a far cry from the luxury enjoyed by the crew at International Space Station (ISS) where the crew can munch any of the 200 odd items set for meals.
When it comes to Orion, that privilege is unaffordable given that the limited room cannot accommodate the vast amount of supplies and handle the waste they generate.
Also, the ISS gets thermostabilized or rehydratable packages from the Earth. Unlike ISS, deep space flights do not have resupply spacecraft coming to replenish supplies. This makes Orion crew to take everything together when they start off and manage the storage space economically.
Since Orion has to travel long distances in deep space, it is imperative to cut on the mass of the spacecraft to reduce fuel and energy.
Culturally too, taking an energy bar or a shake for breakfast is too common in the United States.
"We've taken a look at how to get some mass savings by reducing how we're packaging and stowing what the crew would eat for breakfast for early Orion flights with the crew," said Jessica Vos, deputy health and medical technical authority for Orion.
Accordingly, the scientists at the Human Research Program (HRP) created the tasty bars in many flavors, including orange cranberry, banana nut, ginger vanilla and barbecue nut. Each tasty snack contains 700 to 800 calories to keep the astronauts healthy.
Care has been taken to ensure that the bars do not affect the morale of the crew since food matters a lot in long missions.
The food bars have also been tested for flavor and acceptability for assessing the right meal-replacement options in advance. However, designing such a bar has not been easy.
Takiyah Sirmons, the food scientist at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston said there is no commercially-available bar right now that meets all needs.
Meanwhile, NASA is spearheading efforts at growing fresh food in space. Red romaine lettuce was grown aboard ISS and astronauts consumed it.
The upcoming delivery of Advanced Plant Habitat as a chamber for growing plants at the orbiting space station in 2017 will be an important step.
Orion's first crewed mission is expected to take off in early 2021. To be propelled by the Space Launch System rocket, the mission is expected to refine the technologies needed for sending astronauts to Mars.