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NASA to Serve Turkey with the Longest Shelf Life for Thanksgiving 2023 on Mars

Dec 01, 2016 04:39 AM EST
International Space Station
NASA scientists are working to extend the shelf life of foods to be served to astronauts on Mars or other long-duration missions.
(Photo : ESA/via Getty Images)

Even when American astronauts leave Earth for space missions, there is still one thing they would not need to leave behind: a hearty Thanksgiving dinner.

This year, commander of the ISS crew Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson of NASA enjoyed their Thanksgiving meal of dehydrated cornbread dressing, strawberries, tea with sugar, as-flown cranberry sauce spread and smoked turkey. But instead of the food being served in platters and jugs, the meals came in prepackaged pouches. Since alcohol is prohibited in the space station, the crew instead enjoyed pouches of sweet tea, Space.com reports.

According to NASA, taste and nutrition are among the key challenges scientists face as they work to develop foods for astronauts to eat in space. But scientists are now developing ways to extend the shelf life of foods for up to seven years, which is about triple the amount of time foods consumed by ISS crew are considered usable, said Vickie Kloeris, manager of NASA's Space Food Systems Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center in Texas, said in an interview with Seeker.

The extended expiration date could be used for long missions NASA's "Journey to Mars," wherein food will be included in the cargo to be flown to the Red Planet ahead of the crew.

While some astronaut food may appear indestructible, many do not retain their nutrition or palatability for even a year, Michele Perchonok, manager of NASA's advanced food technology program, told Wired. Perchonok added that food-nutrient losses are a serious matter for astronauts, and that stocking a spacecraft for Mars travel could be problematic.

For this purpose, NASA scientists and military researchers are both looking at technologies that could make this happen. The first method is high-pressure processing, which is similar to how canned goods are prepared today, but with less heat and more pressure. According to Kloeris, the method allows for higher initial food quality, which could give the food longer shelf life.

The second is microwave sterilization, which works by quickly heating and cooling foods. The heat is applied over a shorter period of time, which would also give the food higher initial quality and longer expiration date.

"Food is important on lots of levels," former astronaut Sandy Magnus told Seeker. "Human beings gather around food for social purposes. Think of all the times you meet friends at restaurants or bars and share a meal and get caught up over food."

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