Food for astronauts – and earthlings, too

There are a lot of people thinking about the practical issues of living in and exploring space on a long term basis. And the good news is that the answers they develop may also benefit people on earth.

NASA’s Deep Space Food Challenge is a unique collaboration with the Canadian Space Agency, and prizes were awarded in parallel in the second phase of the context earlier this year to American, Canadian, and international teams.

The challenge is one of NASA’s Centennial Challenges, within its Space Technology Mission Directorate. NASA, in partnership with the Methuselah Foundation, manages the U.S. and international competitors; the CSA manages the Canadian competition.

The idea is that as NASA prepares to send astronauts farther into the solar system than ever before, it needs food systems that can fortify future crews in deep space for years at a time. The challenge is to create technologies to help feed astronauts on future long-term space missions.

“Astronauts will tell you that tasty and nutritious food is a critical part of any successful human space exploration mission,” said Denise Morris, program manager of NASA Centennial Challenges at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “The possibilities presented in this challenge could help sustain our explorers on future missions, and even have the potential to help out right here on Earth in areas where food is scarce or hard to produce.”

Chris Hadfield and dessert (CSA)

The Canadian Space Agency has produced a series of videos about eating in space, showing astronauts on the international space station. I do like this one of Chris Hadfield eating chocolate pudding cake and drinking coffee 🙂

Phase Two

Phase 2 tasked dozens of teams with building and demonstrating small-scale prototypes of technologies that use minimal resources and create little waste while producing safe, healthy, and appetizing foods for astronauts. 

A panel of judges selected five US winners to build and demonstrate full-scale food technologies over the next year in Phase 3. They are:

  • Air Company of Brooklyn, New York, developed a system and processes for turning air, water, electricity, and yeast into food.
  • Interstellar Lab of Merritt Island, Florida, created a modular bioregenerative system for producing fresh microgreens, vegetables, mushrooms, and insects.
  • Kernel Deltech USA of Cape Canaveral, Florida, developed a system for cultivating mushroom-based ingredients.
  • Nolux of Riverside, California, created a solution that mimics the photosynthesis that happens in nature to produce plant- and mushroom-based ingredients.
  • SATED (Safe Appliance, Tidy, Efficient, and Delicious) of Boulder, Colorado, developed a space cooking appliance that would allow astronauts to prepare a variety of meals from ingredients with long shelf lives.

The Canadian teams are:

  • Concordia University’s AstroYeast Microfarm is centered around a yeast strain specially adapted to the space environment that produces a delicious and nutritious yeast spread.
  • University of Guelph’s Canada GOOSE (Growth Options for Outer Space Environments) is a plant growth chamber for high-density production of fresh fruits, vegetables, and mushrooms that also could be installed in remote areas or harsh environments on earth.
  • McGill University’s Cricket Rearing, Collection, and Transformation System is designed to be a protein source for astronauts and humans in remote environments on Earth by growing and harvesting protein-rich crickets in a controlled environment. 
  • Ecoation Innovative Solutions’ CANGrow Modular Indoor Food Production System is a modular polyculture indoor food production system that grows strawberries, cherry tomatoes, two root vegetables, microgreens, four culinary herbs, mini-head lettuce, an algae superfood, and a mycelial meat substitute, “space bacon”.

Three international teams also were chosen as Phase 2 winners:

  • Enigma of the Cosmos of Melbourne, Australia, created an adaptive growing system to increase the efficiency of plants’ natural growth cycles.
  • Mycorena of Gothenburg, Sweden, developed a system that uses a combination of microalgae and fungi to produce a microprotein.
  • Solar Foods of Lappeenranta, Finland, created a system that uses gas fermentation to produce single-cell proteins.


Deep Space Food Challenge. Canadian Space Agency. 

Growing healthy food in space and in remote areas. Canadian Space Agency

Deep Space Food Challenge, Canadian Space Agency. Impact Canada, Apr. 27, 2023

NASA Selects Winners, Announces Final Phase of Space Food Challenge. May 19, 2023

Cover image: Nutritional Closed-Loop Eco-Unit System, or NUCLEUS, developed by Interstellar Lab of Merritt Island, Florida, is a self-sustaining food production system yielding fresh greens, vegetables, mushrooms, and insects, which could provide nutrients for long-term space missions. Credits: NASA/Methuselah Foundation