A trip to Mars might take as long as three years roundtrip to complete, so NASA is researching how to sustainably feed its astronauts throughout the journey, including growing food in outer space, The New York Times reported.
"It's not like you can just run out to the store," retired astronaut Scott Kelly, who set a U.S. record with 340 days in space – thanks to regular shipments of fruit and vegetables to the International Space Station (ISS) every few months – told the Times. "To have fresh food, it helps with nutrition. It also helps with morale."
Prepackaged food supplies will not be enough to sustain the three-year trek, leading to the study of how to grow food in space. NASA is working on growing chile peppers, and then expanding to tomatoes and strawberries, if not potatoes, according to the Times.
"This is the most complex crop we have done to date for food purposes," NASA's pepper experimenter Matthew W. Romeyn told the Times.
NASA has about 200 foods and drinks on the ISS, which need to be reheated and rehydrated with water, spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz told the Times.
"We don't really have a food system that we are confident will be good for the entire duration of a Mars mission," she said. "We feel plants are a very good way to help solve that problem."
Water, needed for both packaged food and space gardening, is the tricky resource to carry, and it is currently behind recycled from humidity, sweat, and even urine, according to the report.
"Yesterday's coffee is tomorrow's coffee," Schierholz told the Times.
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