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US Space Agency NASA Developing Food Bars to feed Astronauts during 6 month Journey for Mars

While many Americans eat a protein bar in place of a meal from time to time, NASA said those are not good enough for the Mars mission

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NASA is working on ways to lighten the food load on upcoming missions to Mars. VOA

Nov 28, 2016: A journey to Mars presents many challenges, not the least of which will be how to feed the astronauts during what is expected to be a six-month journey to the Red Planet.

To that end, the U.S. space agency NASA is working to create lightweight food bars that provide calories without adding a lot of extra weight to the Orion spacecraft and the massive booster needed to get to Mars.

Unlike the International Space Station, where astronauts can choose from more than 200 food items, that’s simply not feasible on a mission to Mars, primarily because the amount of fuel needed to get to Mars means finding ways to save weight in other areas, like food. Also, the ISS is regularly resupplied with various consumables.

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The food bars, for now at least, are being developed for breakfast, NASA said.

“When you have 700 to 900 calories of something, it’s going to have some mass regardless of what shape it’s in, so we’ve taken a look at how to get some mass savings by reducing how we’re packaging and stowing what the crew would eat for breakfast for early Orion flights with crew,” said Jessica Vos, deputy health and medical technical authority for Orion. “When you think about multi-week missions in Orion, having just one package for breakfast items for crew will help us limit the space we need to store them.”

While many Americans eat a protein bar in place of a meal from time to time, NASA said those are not good enough for the Mars mission.

“There’s no commercially-available bar right now that meets our needs, so we’ve had to go design something that will work for the crew, while trying to achieve a multi-year shelf-life,” said Takiyah Sirmons, a food scientist with the Advanced Food Technology team at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Some of the flavors being worked on include orange cranberry and barbecue nut.

NASA notes that for other meals, astronauts on their way to and from Mars will have food selection similar to the ISS.

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One potential problem with food bars is that they may lower crew morale, as food choice, taste and quality are important on long missions.

So, NASA is also working on other ways to provide food to astronauts, including a vegetable production system like the one on the space station as well as other types of packaged foods.

The first manned launch of the Orion is expected as early as 2021, with manned missions to Mars coming sometime later. (VOA)

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NASA to Open Parts of ISS to More Commercial Opportunities Including Private Astronaut Missions

NASA pays about $80 million per seat, a price that it is working to trim to $50 million per seat, to send its astronauts

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NASA plans to build a space outpost in lunar orbit that can relay astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024. VOA

NASA will open parts of the International Space Station to more commercial opportunities, it announced Friday, allowing companies to use the space station’s facilities in a number of ways, including private astronaut missions.

The space agency has balked at commercial ventures in the past, but the cost of operating the space station, which is one of the agency’s greatest expenses, currently runs $3 billion to $4 billion a year, or more than $8 million a day. NASA leadership has made it clear that the agency wants to eventually transition control of the space station and its region of space, low Earth orbit, to the private sector.

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FILE – A photo provided by NASA TV shows a cargo ship as it arrives at the International Space Station, Dec. 13, 2016. VOA

“What this is, is an investment in the future for demand for low-Earth platforms” said Mike Read, the manager of Commercial Space Utilization at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, told VOA News. “What we want to do is leverage the station and try to enable others to turn a business model … while we have the infrastructure of the space station.”

By handing control of the space station over to commercial ventures, NASA could have more money to pursue more ambitious missions, such as building a new space station around the moon and sending humans back to the lunar surface.

In late 2018, the agency selected 12 companies to study the potential growth of a low-Earth orbit economy and how to best stimulate demand for human space flight. (Low-Earth orbit means altitudes below 2,000 km or 1,240 miles.) This group brainstormed ways companies could turn a profit at the space station, and the members decided that allowing corporations to build and market their products using space station resources would help ignite the economy NASA is seeking to build on.

But getting to space is not cheap.

Private astronaut missions will be limited to two flights per year, or about 12 astronauts per year, and come at a significant cost. The cost of travel and accommodations will have to be picked up by the private sector.

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FILE – The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule is pictured, March 3, 2019, about 20 meters (66 feet) from the International Space Station’s Harmony module. VOA

As of now, the only ways to get to the space station are spacecraft developed by Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Boeing, so “whatever prices Boeing and SpaceX set is on them,” said Jeff DeWit, NASA’s chief financial officer.

NASA pays about $80 million per seat, a price that it is working to trim to $50 million per seat, to send its astronauts.

Apart from the cost of getting there, companies hoping to work on the space station will have to pay to stay there: One night’s stay would be about $35,000 for one person, DeWit said.

“It’s now up to you to use your creativity — your ingenuity — and figure out how you can generate potential revenue,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration.

ALSO READ: NASA: Skywatchers will be Able to See Jupiter’s Largest Moons Using Just Binoculars

‘Learning experience’

“This is the beginning of us actively starting open dialogue with the industry to figure out how we can open up space to commercial activities, where revenue can be generated from private sector companies. … This is going to be a growing and learning experience for both [sides].”

But NASA’s Read points out a key element to this new venture: “We are a government bureaucracy that is trying to enable development of a new economy. That’s pretty different,” he said. (VOA)