With the possibility of a manned mission still looming on the horizon, scientists debate what to eat on the way to Mars and what is the proper diet an astronaut should keep. It’s safe to say that they will be in a unique situation.
- NASA is still aiming for a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s
- The trip will take 3 years in total, with a 10-months-long stay on the Red Planet
- NASA has yet to understand the true effects of space on the human body
- That includes the need for nutrients that will be beneficial and will be able to last for years
NASA still has the goal in mind to send a crew to Mars in the 2030s. However, there are numerous obstacles in the way. Even if the space agency passes them with flying colors, the strain will be placed on top of the astronauts trained to participate in the mission. First of all, the psychological and physical effects of long-term exposure to space could be dangerous. And, for the most part, it’s wildly unknown.
So far, the longest a man has ever spent in space is less than a year on the International Space Station (ISS). However, NASA estimates that a trip to Mars, including a 10-month-long stay on the Red Planet, will take roughly 3 years. It’s a long trip, as the foreign planet is around 140 million miles away. That’s around 5,625 times the Earth’s circumference. It will not be easy on their bodies, or their minds for that matter. Isolation could result in dangerous psychological effects.
However, the most important aspect of their wellbeing is, of course, food. The very long trip will not only imply the need for meals that could last for years, but they will also have to satisfy all their nutritional requirements. Even on Earth, good and proper nutrition is key to a healthy life. One can only imagine how paramount that will be in such harsh conditions.
Millions of sailors died from scurvy in the Age of Sail, until they realized that their supplement of vitamin C from lemons and oranges was what saved them. While we have moved past such base knowledge, the trip to Mars can bring forward equally unknown consequences. And the problem is that the crew will be millions of miles away from home, with no one else to help. The most important thing is to assure that they will have everything they need, and what exactly they will need.
According to Sara Zwart, a food scientist from NASA’s Johnson Space Center, one of their goals is to optimize nutrition in a way that it will nullify the negative effects of space. This includes loss of bone density, muscle, vision problems, changes in the immune function, and, of course, damage caused by radiation exposure. They will need all the nutrients and vitamins that supplements can simply not satisfy for several years.
Although NASA is still years away from the manned mission, they have yet to understand what sort of food the astronauts will need in order to stay healthy, avoid diseases, or even death. While a sustainable food source would be ideal, Mark Watney’s potato garden from The Martian isn’t all that easy to duplicate.
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