Features 2 minutes 16 June 2018

Smart Science: 5 Food Inventions Inspired by Space Technology

Once exclusive only to astronauts, many kinds of advanced technology have become mainstays in our daily life. Without exception, the food industry has seen a fair share of fundamental inventions inspired by space science.


The expedition of astronauts in outer space might seem almost unfathomable to the average person, yet space technology actually penetrates our life in more ways than you think.

Every year, NASA collates a list of techniques applied to our daily life through its publication Spinoff, reminding us they are a vital part of the world in which we live in.

For instance, space science significantly changes the face of food. Whether at home or in space, humans can’t survive without eating. Below are five of the greatest innovations that have shaped our culinary culture.

Freeze-drying reduces the weight of food by 80 percent.
Freeze-drying reduces the weight of food by 80 percent.

Enriched Baby Formula

Among the infant formulas available on the market, one of the core nutrients was discovered through NASA-funded research, as it focused on the nutritional value of algae after extensive flight in the space. During the process, scientists came across an omega-3 fatty acid previously found only in breast milk. Omega-3 fatty acid is a crucial constituent of the human body. Our brain contains 20% of it; the retina 50%. Both of these point to how much it affects the development of intelligence and sight of an infant.

The findings in the research ultimately led to the production of lifeDHA composed of omega-3 fatty acid, and lifeARA containing omega-6 fatty acid, and their addition to infant formulas. Right now in the United States, 90% of baby food is made with such content and exported to 65 other countries. These nutrients are produced by Martek Biosciences Corporation, and most of its research specialists and management staff had worked in NASA to accumulate relevant experience.

Freeze-Drying Technology

Project Apollo marked a breakthrough point in the evolution of space food with bringing forth the initiative of freeze-drying, which would later be adopted for commercial uses including snack production. In this process, cooked food is frozen immediately and then heated gently in a vacuum to let the ice sublime (aka, turning it into gas without liquidation). Food prepared this way maintains 98% of its original nutritional value, but its weight would be only 20% of the pre-frozen state. Currently, the use of this technology extends to providing nutritious meals for the elderly at home or those with a disability.

Refrigerated Internet-Connected Wall Ovens

Embedded Web Technology (EWT) was first invented by NASA to simplify the work of astronauts at a space station, allowing them remote control on certain tasks. The invention was later passed to culinary appliance company TMIO, which came up with a low-cost oven commanded via phone called Connect Io. The device can both heat and chill food items—to be more specific, it keeps them chilled until a pre-determined cooking time. The user only needs to input the time when the food should be ready, and the oven begins the heating process automatically.
Water purification turns out drinkable water under the least ideal living circumstances.
Water purification turns out drinkable water under the least ideal living circumstances.

Food Safety System

A complete food safety system is one of the crucial contributions NASA introduced to the food world. Based on the living conditions of the astronauts, the organization worked with the Pillsbury Company to establish two procedures to eliminate foreseeable food-related problems. The first removes any food crumbs that could slip into the astronauts’ working and living area in the space, as well as the sensitive machines. The other is named Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP), employed to avoid any bacteria or virus that could lead to catastrophic illnesses. Back on Earth, HACCP is applied to maintain the hygiene of many processed food items, in particular, juices, seafood-based and dairy products.

Water Purification

The engineers of NASA conceived a sophisticated water purification system to provide recyclable drinking water for astronauts far away from fresh water supply. First launched in 2008, the apparatus processes unrefined liquid like sweat through adsorption, ion exchange and ultrafiltration, so that it is transformed into clean, safe-to-drink water. The commercial potential of this system is massive, as it gives water-deprived and pollution-stricken countries a reliable water source.

This story was originally written by Tang Jie and translated by Vincent Leung. Click here to read the original version. 


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