A new study in the Journal of Food Science explores the impact of space flight on the nutritional value of foods. Maintaining the health of the crew aboard a spacecraft is a critical issue especially during extended trips. Because foods may lose their nutrients during extended space missions, food scientists are analyzing ways to increase shelf life of nutrients in the food.
Researchers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Johnson Space Center in Houston evaluated the stability of fatty acids, amino acids and vitamins in supplements and in foods from a long-duration spaceflight on the International Space Station (ISS). Tested items included tortillas, almonds and dried apricots, commercially-packed salmon, freeze-dried broccoli au gratin, multivitamins, and vitamin D supplements.
“Destruction of even a single vitamin or nutrient in the space food system could be catastrophic to astronauts in a three-year mission to Mars,” said Michele Perchonok, manager of the NASA shuttle food system and member of the Institute of Food Technologists.
Scientists speculated that long-term storage and/or radiation from the space environment could degrade nutrients in foods. Their findings showed:
- The vitamins in the tortillas decreased significantly.
- The vitamins in salmon decreased significantly after 353 days.
- Broccoli au gratin had 15 to 20 percent decreases in folic acid and in vitamins K and C.
- A multivitamin supplement that was used for the study showed that the vitamin A, riboflavin and vitamin C were all decreased after at least 353 days of storage.
- Vitamin D in the supplement declined over time, the longest point in the study was after 880 days of spaceflight.
Researchers are exploring different packaging or other means to increase food shelf life for exploration missions exceeding three years. Researchers are also exploring how the human body’s need for nutrients changes during space flight. Both of these have significant implications for future exploration missions