Space technology soars, reports IDTechEx


Space. The last frontier, the first stop on a journey that is just beginning, or a horrific void that is matched only by your deep fear of the ocean? No matter how you feel about space, technology has never stopped advancing to push exploration further, faster and greener than ever. IDTechEx logo

Space for the seconds? It’s not all about vegetables, however. Aleph Farms and Finless Foods recently used 3D printing technology to make meat grown on the International Space Station. While these aren’t quite Star Trek replicators, the innovation at least offers a little intrigue and ingenuity to astronauts, and a break from freeze-dried foods can make a huge nutritional difference. The mental health aspect of fresh and varied foods should not be underestimated and could be greatly helped by innovations like these.

Innovations such as small hydroponic systems for growing certain green foods are therefore extremely interesting developments for the industry. NASA has started researching the use of this method to grow crops in space; NASA plant physiologist Ray Wheeler, Ph.D. and his colleagues have studied ways to efficiently grow fresh and safe food crops outside of Earth. More recently, the International Space Station astronauts harvested and ate a variety of red romaine lettuce which they activated and cultivated in a plant growing system called Veggie. Other vegetables Wheeler identifies as having great promise for space farming include sweet potatoes, wheat, and soybeans. The story continues

It is extremely difficult to provide food for astronauts that is not super sterile, dried and long lasting food. As a result, many astronauts experience weight loss on missions, and in terms of long-term space travel, poor food quality is a major issue in terms of mental and physical health. Any student who has eaten potted noodles 3 meals a day for a month may be familiar with the problem. Many people are familiar with the concept of freeze-dried foods for astronauts, from exciting freeze-dried ice cream to the more common freeze-dried fruits that can be seen in cereals such as Special K. Perfect for a novelty, or breakfast with a little milk, but imperfect for long expeditions into the unknown.

Yes, astronauts use a vacuum in the vacuum of space. Unlike what happens on land, dust and debris do not settle but can accumulate in the air vents. Astronauts therefore use vacuum cleaners to collect what they can. However, the problem of cleanliness in space runs much deeper than that of dust and crumbs, and this is where antimicrobial technology comes in.

Biofilms – colonies of bacteria and single-celled organisms adhering to a surface – can occur in almost any environment on earth, and now in space. In a small space such as a space shuttle or space station, with limited supplies and potentially years of travel before there is a chance to leave or access additional cleaning materials, it’s is a problem that must be carefully controlled. In microgravity, the immune response is weakened, which calls for extra precautions in terms of cleanliness. Many infectious bacteria, on the other hand, do not have such problems. In fact, some studies have shown that bacteria in space can survive concentrations of drugs that would be fatal to them on earth. It is therefore not surprising to learn that many astronauts have been struck by an infection during their adventures. In addition to health concerns, high contact areas, waste disposal systems, and liquid handling systems can be affected by biodegradation – the process by which organic substances are broken down by microorganisms. Biodegradation of materials on crewed spacecraft can cause disruption, loss of function, and loss of crew time.

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