At present, the focus of extended human space missions is to the Moon and, beyond that, to Mars. The provision of foods to meet space traveller’s nutritional needs is currently predominately based on supplies grown on Earth that require appropriate formulation, processing, and packaging for space travel. These supplies add significant payload to launch vehicles and shelf life can be limited to 2-5 years. In future, the duration of proposed missions, along with mission resource constraints, will mean that foods supplied from Earth may not be sustainable. It is also evident that current terrestrial agricultural science and practices will need adaptation to meet requirements of extra-terrestrial food production. Such adaptions need to ensure that safe and palatable foods can be produced in space in order to support the nutritional and psychological well-being of future explorers.
Adaption and transformation of existing terrestrial food production and practises for extra-terrestrial needs will necessitate advancements in agricultural, nutrition, and food sciences, but key contributions from other disciplines such as human, plant and micro-organisms physiology, metabolic engineering, chemistry and physics, materials engineering, advanced robotics, machine learning to name a few will be critical to success. This collaborative work is still at an early stage globally, and our areas of interest include both long term food stability for extended space missions and systems development for enabling off-world food production.
Crops grown in Controlled Environment Farming systems on Earth have shown to have higher yields per unit area, higher water use efficiency, and can be produced year-round thus increasing the number of stable harvests and decoupling production from weather events. Adapting these learnings to the physical and resource constrained conditions in space will, in turn, provide new knowledge and innovation in agricultural practices on Earth.
Our own research on microgravity effects on polyunsaturated fatty acid production in engineered Saccharomyces Cerevisiae highlights important directions for improved understanding and control of metabolic pathways for nutrient production from this edible yeast and will also be discussed.