The Martian, a novel and a feature film by author Andrew Weir, capitalizes upon the public’s excitement for human exploration of Mars. The film falls into the sci-fi genre but it’s not that far off from what scientists envision.

NASA consultants were consulted to accurately portray a future mission to Mars and how a self-sufficient life-sustaining colony on the red planet would work. While the film uses some creative license with what life on Mars could be like, it does discuss some of the actual strategies that will be employed to keep our first human explorers well fed. When main character Mark Watney finds himself stranded and alone on the red planet, he uses his knowledge as a botanist to grow enough food to survive. Scientists are indeed working on ways of growing food Mars but these efforts are just part of a larger plan to keep space voyagers well nourished. Teams of scientists are working on developing a variety of packaged foods with maximum shelf lives as well as freshly made processed foods that are created on demand. Additionally, they are researching the effects of long-duration storage and various conditions on food during the trip and stay on Mars.

What will we eat during the long ride to Mars?

The trip to Mars could take approximately nine months. While some of the foods on long-duration spaceflights will be freshly made, the bulk of food consumed will be prepackaged. The Advanced Food Technology (AFT) Project of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Human Research Program (HRP) is currently working on designing stable, palatable, and nutritious foods for longer missions. These foods will be unrefrigerated and sent to relevant destination sites prior to crew arrival, which means that they need a minimum shelf-life of 3 to 5 years at ambient conditions. Retort food pouches have been researched as the best current option for extended food shelf-life. Our texture analyzers are used in this research to measure the texture of these food products over a series of months and years:

Assessment of the Long-Term Stability of Retort Pouch Foods to Support Extended Duration Spaceflight

How will foods stay fresh during and after the long trip from Earth to Mars?

Researchers are working to predict what could happen to foods as they make the long journey from Earth to Mars. One such example is soybeans. Soybeans are a preferred food for space travel and exploration because of their nutritive value as well as the oil and protein that they provide for other food applications. Missions to Mars will require longer-term soybean storage, which could cause rancidity and decay. As soybeans travel from Earth to Mars, they will be exposed to radiation induced oxidation reactions which can also impact shelf life and quality. NASA scientists are working to find the best methods of preserving soybean quality for future conditions that are not completely known:

Space explorers will dine on freshly prepared foods too with a view.. of the red planet

While most food designed for space travel will be prepackaged, researchers are also working on refining methods for preparing fresh food during missions and beyond. Here are just a few of examples of freshly made foods that space crews and missions to Mars may enjoy:

Fresh soymilk and tofu. Space explorers will have access to some of the same fresh foods that they do back home. The STOW (soymilk, tofu, okara, and whey) food processor can produce soymilk and firm-style tofu on demand.

Freshly baked bread. Our space travelers won’t have to go without their daily bread either. Researchers are developing specialized bread makers designed for ease of use and with the ability to work in zero to low gravity:

Our texture analyzers have been part of NASA’s space food shelf life analysis guidelines since 2003. Food technology is a critical element to the success of current and future space exploration missions. We’re thrilled that our instruments are assisting scientists and researchers advance humankind’s expansion to the stars!