Back on November 21, I exhorted interlibrary loan to deliver The Astronaut’s Cookbook faster. This was eventually successful. Even now I’m resting my arms on it as I type. Regrettably, it’s also finals time, so I don’t have time to actually read this. Also, it turns out it came out in 2009, so I don’t know why I thought it was new. Anyway.
Somehow I think that’s not the recommended way to eat space food.
Also, this book is spiral-bound, like many of my mom’s cookbooks. This is appropriate because there are a lot of recipes in here, and I mean recipes you could actually make, not the NASA kind with the pressure valve. Although one recipe for bacon bars does call for 3,000lbs of pressure from a hamburger press (yields “more than you would want”), and one is a recipe for a Frozen Space Sandwich, which consists of making a sandwich, putting it in a baggie, and freezing it. I feel if you need a recipe to freeze a sandwich you might need more cooking help than this book can provide.
So today we’re going to just talk about Chapter 10!
Chapter 10 is called Future Space Food, and talks about many of the food-in-space challenges I’ve talked about on this blog, such as microgravity. Bourland and Vogt also point out that astronauts have enjoyed working with the plants when they’re been grown in space, as they’re “a pleasant break from what is an otherwise relatively sterile environment.”
Some other fun facts from Chapter 10:
Possible space agriculture crops, determined through research projects, include:
bell peppers, cabbage, carrots, beans, lettuce, green onions, herbs, peanuts, potatoes, radishes, rice, soybeans, spinach, strawberries, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and wheat
Personally I would shun the bell peppers, peanuts, and radishes (unless I suddenly turned out to like those in space); you?
As far as how much space (for agriculture) you need per person, given the right growing conditions:
…a sustainable diet for a single astronaut could be produced using only about 30 m2 of growing space.
That’s about 323 square feet, around the size of an 18ftx18ft room. You’d have to use the correct crops, including dwarf wheat, and you’d definitely be vegetarian. On the other hand, you’d be able to see exactly where all your food came from, and that would be kind of cool.
Recipes for this section include BBQ Tempeh, Tofu Brownies, Soy Bread, Hot and Sour Soup, Peanut Butter Cookies, Roasted Garlic Soybean Hummus, and Tofu Cheesecake, which: a) I’m suddenly really hungry for chocolate-chip oreo-crust cheesecake, and b) I wonder if it’s delicious and tastes like real cheesecake. I think many astronauts would be a fan of space cheesecake even if it was a little weird (I would be), but you’d have to get an oven up there, and a blender.
However the last instruction is “Serve well chilled,” which shouldn’t be a problem in space.
In real life, the furthest humans have been from Earth is the moon; all these questions about space agriculture are for hypothetical future travel. In fiction, of course, that is so very not the case.
Let’s take this opportunity to look at how science fiction people of the future farm (or don’t farm) their space food.
Star Trek totally cheats.
When you can just tell your food to the replicator and it appears, there is very little need for space agriculture. Though several of the Star Trek ships did have hydroponics gardens for fresh/fruit vegetables, they weren’t mandatory. Since hydroponics avoids the dirt question and gravity and lighting on Star Trek ships is pretty much like it is on Earth, there aren’t a lot of obvious challenges here.
B5 grows some of its own food in Red Sector, meaning the station can (at least theoretically) support itself. Of course, “supporting itself” and “having delicious food always available” are totally different: there’s bribery required to get the ingredients for bagna caude, illegal on-board coffee plants using up valuable station resources, and do you know how difficult it is to get eggs out there before they spoil?
Look! Gardens! Give them a break on the CGI, it was 1995.
Serenity, unlike the Star Trek and B5 ships, is a run-down civilian ship, not a big shiny military/government ship, and it isn’t big enough to have a garden; we (or at least I) don’t know a lot about the insides of the big ships owned by people with money. We do know that a crate of apples is generous (and, considering who it’s coming from, freaky).
There’s also such a thing as Nutrient Bars aka foodstuffs, which don’t seem promising as far as indicating the widespread presence of space agriculture.
Battlestar Galactica (new version)
Battlestar Galactica is a show so depressing that I stopped watching after about half a season, so I’m not surprised.
There’s also an episode that features crackers, which are only a very tiny step above the food cube.
We’ve now reached the limit of my easily accessible space TV knowledge, and so far the plants-in-space as food source has come down on the ‘no’ side. Most of these shows expect that the ships will be moving quickly and frequently between planets with food sources–so there’s no need for them to grow their own food.
We clearly won’t have that option, and we can’t really take the Star Trek route, either: the replicator is not, for example, in PC World’s Star Trek Tech We Use Today (Almost) list. The closest to what we have is Babylon 5, and B5′s pretty similar to Earth in regards to growing conditions; plus, as I mentioned, it’s supplied by off-station resources as well.
It’s interesting to think that as far as future space tech we apparently give so little thought to something as vital as food, though perhaps not surprising, given the handwaving approach often taken to other important basics like artificial gravity and faster-than-light travel. Unless your show is about launching interstellar travel for the first time, details like food supplies, which are presumably routine, aren’t terribly dramatic compared to, say, epic space battles.
But I think that interval between the first off-Earth/moon exploration and humans being all over the place while ships zoom around between them would be a cool place to explore (preferably on a ship featuring space farms).
And if I didn’t cover your favorite show’s space food… share with a writeup in the comments!