Vegetarianism is likely to be a popular concept among space settlers. It has been suggested that the ideal space colonist would be a vegan nudist, for the logical reasons that animal husbandry in space will tend to be rather impractical in confined spaces and in the absence of gravity and because going without clothes would insure the lowest amount of personal cargo mass possible. Of course, such extremes in lifestyle may themselves be impractical for a large culturally diverse population.
Purely vegetable sources of protein are limited in number and incidences of allergy to those sources relatively high in the general population. Marshal Savage suggested algae as a universal food source and featured its industrial scale culture as a key design feature of space habitats. He proposed its use in a variety of meat substitute products. This is quite likely, however, the incidence of allergy to algae products is also much higher in the general population than Savage anticipated. Ultimately, comprehensive colonization of space will demand fairly comprehensive spectrums of food production capability. This will probably include meat in some form, though it is also very likely that meat will represent a far smaller portion of the space dweller’s diet than the terrestrial diet.
Alternatives to typical meat sources have long been considered by space development advocates. Mariculture and insect farming offer a number of possibilities based on various organisms of compact size, indifference to reduced gravity, and neatly contained life support. Many of these are likely to be explored in habitat development –though cultural resistance to insects as a food source is likely to be more extreme without some extreme level of processing to disguise the source. But even with these food sources the volume of waste material produced in their processing for food is relatively high. In space, the greater the efficiency of processing and the simpler the technique the better. Ideally, one would desire a meat source whose production is as analogous to plant cultivation as possible. One possibility is tissue culturing adapted to the industrial-scale production of meat.
The idea of tissue culture as a means to industrial meat production is quite old and was once of keen interest to the military but has only been taken seriously in recent years as proponents have suggested it as a way to reduce the carbon, methane, water, energy, and ‘cruelty’ overheads of meat production. Animal husbandry, particularly for animals on the scale of cows, is extremely inefficient. Meat culturing in a sterile factory environment may –strange as it might seem– offer radically improved environmental sustainability as well as reduced cost. Medical tissue culture is likely to be an important industry for orbital settlements, exploiting the microgravity and controlled artificial gravity environment to allow for rapid volumetric growth of cells and perhaps leading to the cloned production of whole replacement organs and limbs.
Techniques developed for this application would be directly transferable to the industrial production of meat. A likely industrial method would be a linear production system based on the fabrication of an absorbable cellular scaffolding material –likely a by-product of algaeculture– in an extremely thin continuous sheet web form. This would then be spray-imprinted with a cloned discrete cellular muscle tissue culture that is tank-nourished –again with algaeculture products– for a period of time and possibly myoelectrically stimulated and mechanically stressed. Thin sheets might be folded in-line to produce a progressively thicker product. Working in a slowly moving continuous processing line, the end product would be a thin continuous ribbon of meat tissue which could be mechanically processed in a variety of ways to simulate traditional meat products then automatically packaged, though the most likely forms would be akin to ground beef, cold-cuts, and sliced meats. Different cell lines and variations in the culture technique would be used to accommodate different meat types. Largely self-contained, these culturing systems could be totally automated using relatively simple systems designs –adapted from those of the medical applications– that could be easily kept completely sterile and even self-monitor their sterility and the many quality parameters of the products.
The greatest challenge with this technology, of course, would be in matching the physical and textural characteristics of natural meat products, though there would always be a certain difference based on, if nothing else, the absolute uniformity of the cultured product. We may think of this as a rather bizarre way to produce food but, in fact, it would be quite analogous to hydroponic farming and eliminates all the negative aspects of traditional meat production as well as the characteristics of animal husbandry vegans have traditionally objected to. Most importantly, it would be suited to most any location in the solar system human beings decide to settle, though it may long demand relatively larger infrastructures for its support than simple plant cultivation.
Some have suggested that, eventually, nanotechnology would be capable of synthesizing all food substances directly from elemental constituents, offering the ultimate means of in-space food production. While this may be possible, it is likely to require the most advanced forms of nanofabrication likely to ever be developed, this because the physical structure of cellular tissues is so vastly complex and volumetric. The raw data necessary to simply molecularly ‘print’ piece of fruit, for instance, would be astronomical and thus require the development of extremely sophisticated procedural algorithmic approaches to their synthesis as an alternative to some sort of one-to-one molecular copying. Ironically, this may actually produce a more ‘real’ product than otherwise based on the ability to implement procedural variations in the synthesis. Still, we are talking of technology of a very distant future indeed, as a simple apple may still require a data processing power in its synthesis on par with the collective of all computers in the world today. If possible, this is likely only in the latter part of the Solaria phase of development.
However, the mass mechanosynthesis of individual cells and complex proteins would likely be a relatively simpler task for computers and nanofabrication systems, thus affording the potential to produce very simple food substances on demand from elemental sources even if the end result may likely have the same differences from the natural products as the products of meat culturing. This may be achievable in the Asgard phase as a direct evolution of meat culturing technology. These synthetic foods may have little physical resemblance to any existing natural food products without mechanical processing –well, with the possible exception of chocolate, yoghurt, protein drinks, and tofu… However, the ability to go directly from elemental materials to food without organic intermediaries would be extremely valuable in the support of closed-cycle life support and in the rapid settlement of the solar system. This would be the closest organic human beings may come to the efficiency of plants; living directly off the energy of the sun.
- Urban Tree Housing Concepts
- Asgard Digitial Infrastructure
- Carrier Pallets
- WristRocket Personal Mobility Unit
- RocShaw Personal Mobility Units
- Pallet Truck
- ZipLine Tether Transport System
- MagTrack Transport System
- SkyGarden and SkyFarm Systems
- Microgravity Food Processors
- Pools and Baths in Orbit
- Solar Sails
- Plasma and Fusion Propulsion