Tasty, nutritious food with little waste is the goal in outer space. NASA is collaborating with the Canadian Space Agency to encourage the public to think outside the box and come up with food options for space.

The Deep Space Food Challenge is an opportunity for the people to create possibilities for better food sources beyond earth. Monsi Roman, program manager for NASA’s Centennial Challenges, explained that this contest allows fresh ideas to flow into how to feed those in space. “What better opportunity to open this to the world. NASA wants to offer more variety when to comes to food. What we can create for space can be used on earth too,” Roman said.  

There are brilliant minds at NASA working on developing cutting edge advances in space exploration; but an area which could use some outside ingenuity is food for space travel. Roman admits there’s a technology gap in this kind of nutrition needed in space. 

While innovative food systems are needed in space, there’s hope those innovations can translate into helping with food issues here on earth. “The excitement is helping people outside of NASA,” Roman said. That excitement is the hope that winner of the challenge could use this platform to start or grow their idea beyond NASA.

Roman points out the intellectual property which is sent to NASA is owned by the team that created it. This allows the idea to be used in other arenas as well. 

The concept of space travel for a broader use besides just exploration is getting closer to reality. With space vacations becoming more and more likely in the future, how to sustain those travelers will become vital. “Four years ago, it would’ve been a joke to say there’s going to be a hotel in space. It’s not a joke anymore,” Roman said. “We’re going to have to feed these people.”

According to the challenge rules, the goal is to fill food gaps for a three-year round trip mission for a crew of four. That includes creating a food system which has both minimal input and waste. It should be something that can be utilized here on Earth in densely populated areas where space is limited; also in harsh climates such as northern Canada where the growing season is extremely limited in scope. The system should not be difficult for the space crew to manage. It should offer nutritional value as well as taste good.

Teams must be registered by May 28 to be eligible to compete in the challenge. Phase one, which is the design submission, is due by July 30, with winners announced at the Kennedy Space Center in Merritt Island, Fla. in September.

Up to 20 top scoring teams will receive $25,000 and be invited to compete in phase 2. That phase consists of a kitchen demonstration of the idea; while phase 3 is a full system demonstration.

The United States and Canada will have their own winners, those outside of both countries can compete but are not eligible for prize money. 

To find winners of this challenge, having judges who are able to look critically at each submission from their own professional expertise is vital. “We’re looking to have a very diverse panel of judges, Roman stated. Contest organizers would like to see people from agriculture and food industries be part of that judging panel.

“We’re getting a lot of interest,” Roman said. The creativity and inventiveness needed to come up with a submission has been a curiosity to many. “This is something that everybody can relate to. Everybody eats, everybody wants to be healthy,” Roman added. “It’s going to be interesting to see what comes in.”

Currently there are at least 100 people who have registered for the competition. Roman expects that about 10 percent of the submissions will be usable from a space perspective. 

What Roman hopes to happen throughout this challenge is the discovery of unique ideas for bringing a food system to space and the opportunity to utilize that system for the betterment of humanity right here on Earth. 

For more information on the Deep Space Food Challenge visit https://www.deepspacefoodchallenge.org/

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