Technology has changed almost every aspect of our lives and now it is also influencing the way astronauts eat food. The first astronauts took their meals from tubes similar to the kinds of toothpaste, however, now the astronauts can have fruits and ice cream with a seasoning of liquid pepper and salt on their meals. Although there are restrictions to food, for example, any food leaving crumbs are considered dangerous as these particles can clog the electrical systems or air filters of the spacecraft.
The foods also need to last for longer time periods if the resupply missions go wrong somehow. As a result, tech companies are trying new techniques to grow food in the spacecraft itself. Aleph Farms, an Israeli food-startup oversaw meat growth in space for the first time by using a 3D printer. It is not a fully new experiment as the company has cooked lab-grown steaks from December 2018 suggesting meat growth in different kinds of environment.
Aleph Farms extracts cells from a cow by using biopsy which is then kept in a broth of nutrients. It simulates the environment inside the body of a cow and then they are grown into steak pieces. The taste is not exactly the same but it resembles the flavor and texture of regular beef.
CEO and co-founder, Didier Toubia said that they are the only company to grow fully-textured meat which has all the muscle fibers and blood vessels needed for the tissues. For growing meat in space, the company had to tweak their process a bit. The cow cells along with nutrient broth were placed in closed vials. They were loaded to the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft in Kazakhstan. It took off for the Russian end of the International Space Station on September 25, orbiting 400 kilometers from the surface of the earth.
On arrival at the station, the vials were inserted into a magnetic printer from 3D Bioprinting Solutions, a Russian company. Cells were replicated by the printer for producing muscle tissues. They returned to Earth without any consumption by the astronauts. It was a conceptual experiment and the company hopes to provide sources of protein in missions to deep space, moon, and Mars in the future.
In 2015, romaine lettuce was grown by astronauts in the International Space Station. NASA is creating a “space garden” for making lettuce, carrots and other fruits on Gateway, a space station proposed to orbit Moon.
Meat printing suggests the companies can pursue this in the harsh environments where there is a scarcity of land or water. It takes almost 5200 gallons of water to produce a kilogram of steak. Cultured meat, on the other hand, uses 10 times less land and water than normal livestock agriculture. It also quicker to cook. Aleph Farms calls its meat, “minute steak” as it only takes a few minutes to cook.
We have to find ways to produce food while conserving the natural resources as the resources for the food industry lead to 37 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Aleph Farms said that their experiment was a response to such issues and the Americans, Russians, Israelis, and Arabs need to unite for addressing the climate and food security concerns.