Human beings have been working in space for many decades but to date no meal ever eaten there has been fully prepared in space. For all this time the astronaut has been limited to a diet consisting of, essentially, high-tech variations of army rations or TV dinners. While this might be adequate for the short missions and simple frontier outposts of contemporary space activity, true habitation in space will bring with it a need for comprehensive food preparation as well as production and result in the cultivation of a unique cuisine. This is something that has largely gone unconsidered by space scientists, advocates, and visionaries –not even in the realm of science fiction, outside the contexts of fanciful dishes of alien cultures. For the most part, cooking and dining in space has been limited to –sometimes comedic– depictions of the contemporary approach of pre-packaged ‘space food’ or mysterious food generating machines whose inner workings are hidden and miraculous. To cultivate a truly plausible image of in-space lifestyle it is important to consider cooking and cuisine in a more realistic way. Like most everything else, cooking in microgravity will demand new techniques. It has also been observed in astronaut experience that tastes and smells are different in microgravity as well, calling for the cultivation of an indigenous cuisine to accommodate these differences.
Containment and transfer are the chief issues in developing microgravity cooking techniques. Contemporary ‘space food’ is pre-made and pre-packaged and thus the issues of containment and handling minimized by packaging design. But true cooking comprises some of the most sophisticated materials processing known and requires the handling of many discrete ingredients in a mix of material forms and states; liquids of varying density and viscosity, solids in monolithic, granular and powder, and then semi-solids in paste and moist forms. It also requires a large variety of mechanical processing; cutting, chopping, grinding, mixing. And, of course, thermal processing; heating, cooling, freezing, pressurizing, and even controlled charring. Ordinary as cooking may seem to us on Earth, developing compact efficient systems to support all this in space will represent one of the greatest engineering challenges in space development and lead to technologies directly transferable to industrial technique. This is by no means as trivial a matter as the subject has been traditionally viewed. Much of the technology of modern chemistry and medicine in fact has its origins in the craft of cooking.
We tend to see the most likely basis of in-space cooking to rest in the development of an automated or semi-automated device known simply as a Food Processor. Design of the Food Processor would be centered on one or more sealed multi-purpose process chambers whose chief purpose is containment of food ingredients introduced to the process chambers from storage in the form of cartridges kept in climate-controlled storage. These chambers may be specialized to perform certain processing tasks; cutting/chopping, mixing, heating, cooling, etc. The system would then package the resulting foods in suitable reusable or disposable dining ‘receptacles’ including trays and plates, spherical bowls, squeeze bottles, boxes (the traditional Japanese ‘bento’ box likely to be a very practical form), and bags. Many food ingredients would be preprocessed in way to make them more easily handled by such devices. They might be pre-chopped, packaged as fluid suspensions or monolithic solids where they would typically be loose powders, and be packaged in cartridges designed for both automated and manual handling.
Cooking in space is likely to be ‘hands-free’ because of the need for containment. A cook would basically be working with a system of cartridges and preparation containers that plug into ports on the food processor for their metered transfer of ingredients and mixtures. Early systems may be ‘discretely’ automated in the sense that the system is composed of a series of processing workstations that a cook manually switches cartridges and mixing containers between while operating each workstation individually. Or the system may be very highly automated, using machines to handle these cartridges and containers and being operated entirely from a single computer interface working from pre-programmed recipes. A complete design proposal, of course, is beyond the scope of this article but we can gather from this some rough impression of how such systems might look –rather like a complex of small washing machines or cylindrical bread-making machines using cartridges plugged in from the facing side or kept in ‘batteries’ or ‘arrays’ like the ink in a large ink-jet printer in refrigerator-like storage units for feed-line insertion or mechanical cartridge-swapping.
Food Processor development may very well see its start in the Aquarius phase of development with the pursuit of terrestrial automated Food Processor systems intended to integrate with marine colony Personal Packet Transit systems for automated resupply. In general, the Aquarius community is likely to lean toward a ‘slow food’ culture keen on the social experience of dining but will also be very keen on automation research and the Post-Industrial notion of eliminating the ridiculous waste of diversified food packaging intended purely for store-shelf marketing. Though probably considered more of a novelty on Earth, these Food Processors would be a logical extension of Fabber technology and could be popular with the emerging Fab-Hacker community. They would be considered a godsend for those living solitary lifestyles, a demographic that may expand considerably in coming years with the forced migration of population thanks to Global Warming, increasing life expectancy, and increased urbanization of the general population due to rising –and increasingly unstable– energy costs.
With a combination of different sensory response in microgravity, different physical forms of ingredients and different forms of end-product for easier microgravity handling, a greater reliance on vegetable products in the diet, and the potential for some radically unusual food sources such as Meat Culturing, algaeculture, insect farming, and mechanosynthetic (nanotech) protein and tissue synthesis, the cuisine of Asgard may evolve into something quite unique in human history. The most practical physical forms of microgravity foods will be those that can be consumed from a squeeze bottle, are highly viscous to allow eating from a bowl or plate, are neatly pre-formed to eliminate at-the-table cutting, or are completely self-packaged in edible packaging to allow easy eating by hand.
Much contemporary ‘space food’ is designed to mimic or adapt conventional terrestrial cuisine to pre-preparation and unusual pre-packaging. There is a presumption that astronauts require some attempt at simulating a terrestrial ‘normalcy’ in their food for their psychological comfort. There is no rational basis to this notion and the inhabitants of Asgard settlements will not be so narrow-minded in their thinking –embracing and exploring the potential uniqueness of their space cuisine rather than merely mimicking terrestrial cuisine. Indeed, if there is a sustainable space tourism market, would this not be a key aspect of it? The potential for invention in this one area of space lifestyle alone is infinite and may produce many novelties with marketing potential on Earth –much as ‘space food’ enjoyed early in the First Space Age.
- 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
- Meat Culturing
- Pools and Baths in Orbit
- Solar Sails
- Plasma and Fusion Propulsion