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In space with starred menus.  This is what astronauts will eat

In space with starred menus. This is what astronauts will eat

From Valentina Somini

Sixty years after the first flight outside Earth, the quality of astronauts’ food has improved significantly. The Space Meal Solution project that allows astronauts through the app to produce custom rosters every two weeks

In an almost natural way, space exploration is often seen as the exploits of the great navigators who allowed us to learn about our planet, from Christopher Columbus to Amerigo Vespucci, Ferdinando Magellano, James Cook, and many others whose names populate the geographical area. The maps also indicate the most strategic and dangerous lanes for ocean-going ships. And the spaceship, and the spaceship, and also the simile, the new “intermediate”, the cosmonauts, initially selected from among the best military pilots, are, above all, the new “sailors”. The idea of ​​the ship as a tool and a way of exploration, as a means of knowing, finding and then returning, like Ulysses, always carries a part of his world, the ship. And, as all sailors know, it is of great importance to learn how to “do the kitchen”, provide a supply of water and food and, if necessary, organize for their production or for finding them during the voyage. At first, the board of new sailors was significantly “dry”: surely everything they needed, such as water, macro- and micro-nutrients, but they were all transformed and somewhat reduced to an abstract and sterile “idea” of food. After John Glenn’s first flight in 1962 accompanied by a tube of mashed meat and vegetables, the Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin lifeboat on the Eagle’s Lunar Module lifeboat included a lunar landing on a hot or cold water hydration system of dried foods. . Among the various foods there was also a shrimp cocktail, carefully selected for absorption. Michael Collins, who remained in orbit in the command module, as well as others during the flight, had a kind of bag with all the necessary nutritional support, which he decided months in advance and, in fact, converted into food bags that could be provided to be eaten with a teaspoon.

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Today, more than half a century later, The International Space Station periodically “does sailboats” thanks to the Soyuz shuttles and the SpaceX space carriers that provide it with everything needed for the survival of six astronauts/sailors. Food quality has improved dramatically, we’ve learned how to get coffee in microgravity conditions and we’ve seen great pizza prepared and enjoyed in orbit, with tomato sauce acting as a “glue” to prevent anchovies and olives from floating freely, and yes I started studying how greenhouses could be developed to produce What is needed for long stays in space. The future, in fact, in the visions associated with programs such as ARTEMIS, to return to the Moon to stay there (at least for 3-6 months), or to begin to think and organize necessarily long-term missions on Mars (in at least two years on the Red Planet). In this case, ‘kitchen work’ becomes much more complicated if not impossible unless there is a food production system directly on site. For missions this long into space, it will be essential that they have a quality of life and the ability to reconnect with our natural habitat, Earth, well above our current habitat and food is an essential component. And with this idea of ​​reconnection, greenhouses with different technologies (hydroponic, aerobatic, hydroponics) that can be installed for example on Mars soils, paying attention not only to functional aspects but also to their use as environments there is a possibility of finding micro-terrestrial habitats, have been studied. Starting with the products of these greenhouses, organizing spaces and technological solutions in which even complex foods can be developed, which maintain the nutritional needs of a strict diet but at the same time allow the astronauts to bridge the gap, and also above all the psychology of an incredible distance from the port of departure . These are the guiding ideas that have led two leading companies in their respective sectors, Pastificio Rana for the production of fresh and packaged pasta and Coesia for the production of automatic machines and packaging, to conceptualize the “Space Meal Solution” project. The concept stems from the need to combine a Mediterranean diet for four astronauts, respecting the micro- and macronutrients of about 3,000 calories per day, with the need to reduce resource consumption (energy, less than 3 kW, water), food preparation time (maximum 4 hours per week as required by the strict programming of the astronauts’ activities and lives on a mission) and the difficulty of cooking even processed foods in the very small space of about 4 square metres. The design in an engineering kitchen unit, Engineered Space Kitchen, is developed as smartly as possible in terms of interaction with users thanks to the app. The app allows astronauts to create personalized bi-weekly menus that are balanced according to the foods provided by the greenhouses, creating the right food feel and taste for each; It also accompanies them in preparation thanks to the interaction with the robotic kitchen, making every astronaut a chef in space! The reconnection to a comfortable environment for astronauts passes through the use of “traditional” tools even if completely redesigned such as the versatile hood system for food processing and cooking, the pasta tower for processing pasta and also producing ravioli, and the “omic” ovens for pasteurization and cooking. These are likely to be The visions are ahead of their times, but they also allow us to understand the limits of resource use, the sustainability of food production and transformation processes on Earth and are an important signal for the democratization of access to space, in optics to alleviate the very difficult operating conditions to which our astronauts/sailors are now accustomed and committed. We will never be grateful enough to the hundreds of pilots, scientists, and technicians who have truly put themselves on the line for the sake of all of humanity, and I will never tire of remembering that.

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December 12, 2021 (changed December 12, 2021 | 12:25 am)