Anyone whose only exposure to outer space has been through watching Brad Pitt prance about in Ad Astra might think that interstellar travel is all about zero gravity shoot ‘em ups and moony pontificating as you drift through a vacuum. What films like this invariably fail to capture is the fact that surviving in space has loads of boring but incredibly important factors. For instance, what do you do if you’ve had a tough day’s astronauting, and all you want is a big, steaming bowl of something gooey? It’s not as simple as nipping out to the shops for a box of Kraft. Thankfully, scientists may soon have an answer to the comfort-devoid chasm of deep space.
A team of researchers from Washington State University have revealed their ambition to create long-life Mac ‘n’ Cheese capable of making the nine-month voyage to Mars in tact. By looking at how to extend the shelf-life of some store cupboard staples, the team hope that they can create a range of edible items that make a mission to Mars delicious as well as fascinating.
According to Professor Shyam Sablani of WSU's Department of Biological Systems Engineering, the project could have ramifications that go far beyond space travel. As Sablani explained:
“We've always been thinking of developing a product that can go to Mars, but with technology that can also benefit consumers here on Earth. We hope to work out a way to test these products on the International Space Station in the future to show that the food is safe after long-term storage.”
According to the team, the key to improving the endurance of certain foods lies in the packaging. As Shablani explained:
"We need a better barrier to keep oxygen away from the food and provide longer shelf-life similar to aluminum foil and plastic laminate pouches...We are excited that an over-layer of organic coating on metal oxide helped protect against microscopic cracks. Multiple layers of metal oxide coating have also increased the barrier performance. Our research guided development of newer high barrier packaging."
Check out our epic recipe for a Mac 'N' Cheesesteak Sub:
However, despite the exciting potential of seeing mac ‘n’ cheese on the surface of the Red Planet, scientists are not there yet. According to NASA’s exacting standards, food has to be able to last for five years before being deemed safe for travel, so the three-year shelf life of Washington State University’s current offering can’t quite cut the mustard. However, if they keep moving in the right direction, maybe macaroni on Mars isn’t quite as far-fetched as it sounds.