NASA Challenge Offers Prizes For Sprouting Astronaut Food Systems

Humans have unfortunately not yet evolved the ability to photosynthesize or recharge from an electricity source, which is why astronauts well into the future of spaceflight will need to have access to food sources. Developing ways to grow food in space is the focus of the new Deep Space Food Challenge that was just launched by NASA and Canada’s Space Agency (CSA).

With a total of twenty $25,000 USD prizes for US contestants and ten $30,000 CAD prizes for the Canucks in Phase 1 of the challenge, there’s some financial incentive as well. In Phase 2, the winning teams of the concept phase have to show off their kitchen skills, and in the final Phase 3 (deadline by Fall 2023) the full food growing system has to be demonstrated.

The possible systems here would likely involve some kind of hydroponics, aeroponics or even aquaponics, to save the weight of lugging kilograms of soil into space. None of this is truly new technology, but cramming it into a package that would be able to supply a crew of four with enough food during a three-year mission does seem fairly challenging.

The NASA rules are covered in their Phase 1 Rules PDF document. While international teams are also welcome to compete, they cannot receive any prizes beyond recognition, and Chinese citizens or companies with links to China are not to allowed to compete at all.

International Space Station Is Racing The Clock After Soyuz Failure

Today’s failed Soyuz launch thankfully resulted in no casualties, but the fate of the International Space Station (ISS) is now in question.

Just two minutes after liftoff, the crew of the Soyuz MS-10 found themselves in a situation that every astronaut since the beginning of the manned space program has trained for, but very few have ever had to face: a failure during launch. Today the crew of two, Russian Aleksey Ovchinin and American Nick Hague, were forced to make a ballistic re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere; a wild ride that put them through higher G forces than expected and dropped the vehicle approximately 430 km from the launch site in Baikonur. Both men walked away from the event unharmed, but while the ordeal is over for them, it’s just beginning for the crew of the ISS.

Until a full investigation can be completed by Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, the Soyuz rocket is grounded. This is standard procedure, as they obviously don’t want to launch another rocket and risk encountering the same issue. But as the Soyuz is currently the only way we have to get humans into space, this means new crew can’t be sent to the ISS until Roscosmos is confident the issue has been identified and resolved.

Soyuz MS-11, which would have brought up three new crew members to relieve those already on the Station, was scheduled for liftoff on December 20th. While not yet officially confirmed, that mission is almost certainly not going to be launching as scheduled. Two months is simply not long enough to conduct an investigation into such a major event when human lives are on the line.

The failure of Soyuz MS-10 has started a domino effect which will deprive the ISS of the five crew members which were scheduled to be aboard by the end of 2018. To make matters worse, the three current crew members must return to Earth before the end of the year as well. NASA and Roscosmos will now need to make an unprecedented decision which could lead to abandoning the International Space Station; the first time it would be left unmanned since the Expedition 1 mission arrived in November 2000.

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