Scientists Cook Up Perfect ‘Space Meal’ For Astronauts’ Journey To Mars

Astronauts making that long journey to Mars won’t have the luxury of going out to dinner or grilling up some burgers. Addressing this challenge for extensive space missions, American Chemical Society researchers have recently announced the development of an optimal “space meal.” This meal, a nutritious vegetarian salad, is tailored to meet the unique dietary needs of astronauts and can be sustainably grown in space.

In space, astronauts expend more calories and require additional micronutrients compared to their counterparts on Earth. For instance, calcium becomes essential to maintain health under prolonged exposure to microgravity. Furthermore, long-term space missions necessitate a sustainable approach to food production within the confines of spacecraft or space colonies.

While growing food in space and understanding astronauts’ nutritional needs have been subjects of research, specific fresh meals have not been extensively explored, according to an American Chemical Society media release. To bridge this gap, Volker Hessel and his team sought to create a space meal that satisfies these specialized requirements while also being palatable.

This salad made up of soybeans, poppy seeds, barley, kale, peanuts, sweet potato and sunflower seeds could be the optimal meal for men on long-term space missions
This salad made up of soybeans, poppy seeds, barley, kale, peanuts, sweet potato and sunflower seeds could be the optimal meal for men on long-term space missions. (CREDIT: Adapted from ACS Food Science & Technology 2023)

Employing a method known as linear programming, which optimizes different variables to achieve a specific goal, researchers evaluated various combinations of fresh ingredients. Their model aimed to meet a male astronaut’s daily nutritional needs while minimizing the water needed for cultivation. Sustainability was a key consideration, with a focus on ingredients that required minimal fertilizer, growth time, and space, and whose inedible parts could be recycled.

Out of ten scenarios examined, a vegetarian meal comprising soybeans, poppy seeds, barley, kale, peanuts, sweet potatoes, and/or sunflower seeds emerged as the most effective in terms of nutrient maximization and minimal farming inputs. Although this combination did not provide all necessary micronutrients, researchers suggest supplementing the missing ones.

credit: Brian McGowan

To ensure the meal’s appeal, a prototype salad was prepared and taste-tested on Earth. Responses varied, with one tester enthusiastically stating they “wouldn’t mind eating this all week as an astronaut,” while others offered more reserved praise, despite returning for seconds.

Looking ahead, researchers plan to adapt their model for female astronauts and expand the variety of crops in their database. This innovative approach to space nutrition not only promises to enhance the health and well-being of astronauts on future missions but also marks a significant step forward in the sustainable production of food in space environments.

The study is published in the journal ACS Food Science & Technology.


  1. Fine article, but it leaves out a key consideration for vegan meals in space: humans should not gobble up life on exoplanets. Sustainability one Earth is also under threat if people hang on to habits that were practical at lesser populations, but now at 8 billion exceed earth holding capacity. E.g., read
    Just like we moved from hunter gathering to agriculture, humanity has to go from exploiting predators to caretaking herbivores… or go extinct. In addition to cruelty, there is too much inefficiencies in omnivores, like using an average of 3 x land and water to farm animals when nutrition can be plant-based. We should not be allowed to explore the galaxy as deceitful, bombastic, arrogant marauders. So good on you NASA.

    1. I’m eating a big juicy hamburger while reading this comment.

      The cooked blood of this beast is literally dribbling down my chin.


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