NASA’s Food Challenge aims to address a cosmic culinary conundrum: how to feed astronauts on long-duration space missions.
NASA’s Deep Space Food Challenge has made significant progress, selecting eight winning teams to advance to the final phase of the competition. With the stakes high and the future of space food on the line, these teams are aiming to revolutionize food production for long-term space travel. This contest isn’t just about providing astronauts with sustenance; it’s about developing innovative, sustainable, and waste-minimizing food production systems that could have implications not only for space but also for Earth.
The challenge for deep space dining
Space missions’ duration and depth are ever-increasing, requiring durable and nutritious food systems to sustain astronauts for extended periods. The contest solicits brilliant minds worldwide to create technology that ensures the availability of nutritious and appetizing food during these extensive missions. Teams have presented novel solutions ranging from self-sustaining eco-units producing fresh greens and insects to adaptive growing systems enhancing plant growth efficiency.
“We’re excited to announce Phase 3 of the challenge to see where these teams can take their technologies next,” said Amy Kaminski, program executive for Prizes, Challenges, and Crowdsourcing at NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.
The innovative contenders
Phase 2 winners were tasked with building small-scale prototypes of technologies that use minimal resources, produce little waste, and ensure safe and nutritious food. Eight winners were chosen to advance, each receiving $150,000 to develop full-scale versions of their technologies. These innovative teams have developed systems ranging from air-to-food processes to appliances that cook a variety of meals from long shelf-life ingredients.
The following U.S. teams will each receive $150,000 in prizes from NASA and advance to compete for up to $1.5 million in total prizes from NASA in Phase 3:
- Air Company of Brooklyn, New York, developed a system and processes for turning air, water, electricity, and yeast into food.
- Interstellar Lab of Merritt Island, Florida, created a modular bioregenerative system for producing fresh microgreens, vegetables, mushrooms, and insects.
- Kernel Deltech USA of Cape Canaveral, Florida, developed a system for cultivating mushroom-based ingredients.
- Nolux of Riverside, California, created a solution that mimics the photosynthesis that happens in nature to produce plant- and mushroom-based ingredients.
- SATED (Safe Appliance, Tidy, Efficient, and Delicious) of Boulder, Colorado, developed a space cooking appliance that would allow astronauts to prepare a variety of meals from ingredients with long shelf lives.
NASA and CSA (Canadian Space Agency) also jointly selected three international teams as Phase 2 winners. These three teams are invited to advance their technologies in Phase 3:
- Enigma of the Cosmos of Melbourne, Australia, created an adaptive growing system to increase the efficiency of plants’ natural growth cycles.
- Mycorena of Gothenburg, Sweden, developed a system that uses a combination of microalgae and fungi to produce a microprotein.
- Solar Foods of Lappeenranta, Finland, created a system that uses gas fermentation to produce single-cell proteins.
The promise of the future
The outcome of this challenge may impact space exploration and Earth’s food production. “The possibilities presented in this challenge could help sustain our explorers on future missions, and even have the potential to help out right here on Earth in areas where food is scarce or hard to produce,” stated Denise Morris, program manager of NASA Centennial Challenges.
Innovation beyond the stars
The Deep Space Food Challenge is not just a competition; it’s an effort to drive humanity’s exploration of the universe in a sustainable, resourceful way. By harnessing innovative food production techniques for space, we open up the possibility of adopting similar solutions on Earth, especially in regions where food production is challenging or resources are scarce. As we look toward the future, such advancements offer a glimpse of the sustainable and adaptable solutions necessary for humanity’s long-term survival and growth.