How can we guarantee astronauts a food that has all the necessary nutrient inputs that are as hungry as possible and can adapt to the many limitations of the space environment? A complex equation is currently being worked out by the Smart Gastronomy Lab (SGL) at Gembloux in Namur Province, a food specialized laboratory that has entered into a partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA).
A promising element
Before imagining and experimenting with the recipes, Jamblux researchers first had to come up with a prerequisite: at least 50% of the protein in their preparation must come from spirulina, a microorganism that ESA imagines it could eventually cultivate in board space vehicles: “The idea is to make fresh protein into space shuttles and so these are better quality products that can be directly converted into food products that are good for taste and health. ” Dorothy Goffin, director of the Smart Gastronomy Lab, explains.
In one corner of the lab, busy in front of an electric hub, Barbara, a French student, is cooking a hamburger based on lentils and spices, garnished with the inevitable spirulina. “The point of preparing it in the form of a hamburger is that it is something that already exists, it is important for acceptance by astronauts. The goal is to make it more palatable, since spirulina can be eaten raw in the form of a milkshake, but eating is not limited to its strictly nutritious levels, astronauts are also researching the fun. ”
Eric Haubruz, a professor at Liz University and co-founder of SGL, agrees: “We see this when fresh products arrive on the International Space Station. There is more inspiration among astronauts in the coming days. We know that there is a very close relationship between food and human behavior, so the interest is to be able to increase the share of fresh food produced directly on site.” .
Adapt to spatial constraints
On the other side of the lab, Mary, a student from France, is sitting in front of a pot of boiling water. Inside, 400 ml of water, not one more or less. A probe was immersed in it and connected to a computer that displayed a series of graphs. “Ohnaa has created this assembly to calculate energy. What you see on the screen is electrical energy as a function of time, a data that we will use to determine the energy consumption for the entire production and cooking of pasta. “
Because if we allow ourselves to make certain assumptions when cooking pasta on hard ground, it is different in a confined space like a space shuttle, where resources are particularly valuable. The cuisine of the place is subtlety and restraint, as Dorothy Goffin explains: “We will use as little water as possible and as little energy as possible and above all we will recycle every time. For example, it is the urine of astronauts that feeds on microalgae that will later be swallowed by these same astronauts and so we must be able to optimize everything at the design level of processes and products, this is something that must be taken. “.
“Weight problems, we don’t know how to carry tons and tons of water.” Involved in Eric Haubrug, “Everything is based on economy and abundance must be avoided. Everything has to be calculated in terms of environmental input. We need to integrate these parameters when we are going to create our new food. “
If research conducted at Gembloux makes it possible to add a stone to the great building of space conquest, the time is still far when astronauts will cook pasta meals and grill spirulina hamburgers. “We are going to try prototype machines that will be able to manufacture these products in space, but we are still far from verifying these techniques.“Dorothy can recognize Goffin,”These are the horizons of research that has taken decades to integrate these technologies into a spacecraft.“