Flies and fungus burgers to fill NASA astronauts’ stomachs on way to Mars

Space trippers could soon be tucking into protein shakes made from astronauts' breath.

Voyagers on long journeys to Mars could feast on home-grown black soldier flies.

Or maybe they could nibble burgers made from fungus.

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The bizarre dishes are all entries in a NASA-led competition to find new sustainable space food for mammoth trips to the furthest depths of the universe.

The US space agency launched the contest in a bid to solve the problem of what travellers should eat on deep space missions.

The 300 million mile trek to Mars would take about seven months one-way with no apparent source of food on the planet when spacecraft touch down – with an identical epic journey home to follow.

Ralph Fritsche, NASA's senior project manager for space crop production, said: "Currently the pre-packaged food that we use on the International Space Station has a shelf life of a year and a half.

"We don’t have a food system at this point in time that can really handle a mission to Mars.''

Planned longer missions to the Moon would present a similar problem.

NASA launched the Deep Space Food Challenge two years ago to find novel ways to develop sustainable foods for future missions.

Around 200 entries have been whittled down to 11 which have been handed funding.

They had to produce systems that could operate for three years and feed a crew of four on a prospective space mission.

New York-based Air Company designed a system that could use the carbon dioxide expelled by astronauts in space to produce alcohol which can then be used to grow edible food.

It already develops alcohols from CO2 for plane fuel and perfume.

Co-founder Stafford Sheehan said: "It’s making food out of air.

"It sounds like magic but when you see it actually operating it’s much more simple.

"We’re taking CO2, combining it with water and electricity, and making proteins.''

The process produces alcohol that can then be fed to yeast producing "something that’s edible".

For the competition they made a protein shake which "actually tastes pretty good", Sheehan said.

For astronauts in space the system would ferment continuously to supply food.

"Whenever you feel like you want a space protein shake, you make one from this yeast that’s growing,'' Sheehan added.

Florida-based Interstellar Lab produced toaster-size capsules with their own humidity, temperature, and watering system that will allow insects such as black soldier flies – often cited as a promising protein source – to be grown on a space trip.

Chief executive officer Barbara Belvisi said: "You can grow mushrooms, insects, and micro-greens at the same time.''

Swedish firm Mycorena produced a type of protein from the fermentation of fungus to replace animal or plant-based grub.

Though it does not taste of much Kristina Karlsson, the company’s head of research and development, said it was 60% protein, rich in fibre, vitamins, and nutrients, low in fats and sugars and could be combined with spices and flavouring to mimic a range of food including burgers and nuggets.

A module attached to the system 3D-prints the fungus into the desired food style.

"You can pick from a screen and eat a chicken fillet,'' Karlsson added.

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