Space missions have become common place occurrences with half a dozen countries having the capability to send man to the space and get him back with practically no risks. While missions of few days duration can provide for suitable foods in preserved condition, long duration space voyage calls for specially designed and packed foods adequately nutritious and tasty with very long shelf life. Most preferred foods to day for space flights are freeze dried products which are packed in foil laminates to prevent moisture ingress and consequent spoilage. The Space Laboratory, a joint venture between USA and Russia, has inhabitants living for months together for carrying out scientific tasks under low gravity conditions and an array of foods has been developed to cater to the needs of these astronauts. With relief going every six months, foods stocked in the Space Lab project need not have long shelf life.
Food scientists at NASA are reported to be in the process of developing an appropriate menu under their "Advanced Food System' program for the a mission to Mars which is considered highly challenging. The Mars voyage is expected to cover about 80 million miles requiring 3 years to be in the space vehicle. The voyage itself may take about 8 months each way with a stay of 18 months in the planet. The scientists are mandated to come up with a menu that is light in weight, nutritious and having a long shelf life of 5 years and the products are to be ready by 2015-16. Modern packaging materials like Aluminum foil is not considered to be suitable because of weight considerations and focus seems to be on thermo-stabilized foods instead of freeze dried ones requiring reconstitution. How far to day's retort pouch technology can fit into their needs remains to be seen but it should be promising as there are newer pouch materials available without using Aluminum.
The ambitious project also envisions growing of fresh foods like lettuce, spinach, carrots, radish, bell pepper, strawberries, fresh herbs, cabbage etc while sweet potato, soybean, peanuts, dried beans are also being considered. It is felt that the psychological well being of the astronauts is closely linked to the variations in the food eaten and variety in taste, texture, color and flavor. If cereals are grown, naturally processing equipment also will have to provided in the Mission and the currently available ones are to be scaled down for fitting into the limited space in the spacecraft.