Developing fat for the trip to Mars

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Developing fats for the trip to Mars

The food that will be consumed for the mission to the planet Mars should have a long duration to allow the astronauts to sustain themselves.

A team of researchers from the University of Colombia British Columbia (UBC) is trying to develop fats for astronauts who will be on long missions in space. This food, usually difficult to preserve for long periods, will be used during possible expeditions to the planet Mars.

The majority of what astronauts consume has a lifespan of about two years, but to get to Mars it can take five to six years, maybe even seven years, explains researcher Roxanne Fournier who is passionate about food in space.

“The food currently given to astronauts on the International Space Station will not be suitable for travel to Mars. »

— Roxanne Fournier, researcher, University of British Columbia

Researchers Cody Rector, John Frostad and Roxanne Fournier chose to focus their research on fats because they are often those elements that oxidize first in a dish. This is why the food prepared for space these days includes a minimum of fat: Astronaut food is not often known for the taste, it is soft with little texture, she says.

The team has been trying since September 2021 to develop omega-3 fatty acids that are essential for health, so that they will be part of the menu offered on board spacecraft in the future.

The form people often see this element in is fish oil capsules, says Cody Rector, one of the researchers leading the lab experiments. We need to eat them, so when the rocket takes off, astronauts need to have access to everything they need.

To preserve fatty acids, researchers want to use a shell made of natural products from which they can then extract the fat at the time of consumption.

For the moment, they have opted for quinoa starch which they have transformed to meet the needs of the experiment. It's possible to modify quinoa so that it clumps with the fat, says Cody Rector.

He thinks of possibly trying other kinds of starch, such as rice, potato or corn starch, or combinations of several types of starch for an optimal shell.

The nutrient, which would be in powder form, could then be mixed with water to make a fatty drink or other ingredients to make a meal : Smoothies, it's really perfect, you can't bring smoothies as such in liquid, but you can make it in powder, explains Roxanne Fournier.

There are many issues that must be taken into account in the preparation of space dishes.

The problem is that all food must be more or less sterile, explains Roxanne Arsenault. Often they will process everything at very high pressure and temperature [to prevent the development of any dangerous bacteria], but it really degrades the food itself.

It is also necessary to take into account the texture of the dishes given the particular environment in which they are consumed, that is to say from a spaceship. It has to be something with cohesive properties, like soups and pastas to keep the food from blowing away.

She also specifies that by studying the menus currently offered in space, she notes that fat is reduced due to its rapid oxidation. If you have pasta with a creamy sauce with a lot of fat that gives flavor, it will not last long in space, she describes. The negative in all of this is that you really lose the delicious taste.

The researcher believes that this discovery will also be used on Earth to prevent certain foods from expiring at home. The researchers hope to see the Canadian Space Agency include this new ingredient on the menu in five to ten years.

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