Project

Fermentation in Space

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Space Exploration Initiative

SEI

Fermentation in Space: From the Microbiome to the Envirome 

This research highlights the many opportunities to bring our rich culture of Earth-based fermentation practices to space. There is great potential for investigation into space fermentation—from the microbiome scale to the envirome scale—both to design beneficial applications for astronauts and to learn more about the integrated biology of the human space environment. 

Building new techniques and applications for developing space food based on fermentation can have a remarkable influence on human experience, cognitive performance, and overall wellbeing. Fermentation could be harnessed to improve astronaut gut health, which is linked to behavior and cognitive performance; manage food waste by preserving the nutritional value and flavor of fresh ingredients and space food leftovers; provide new creative modes of preparing food to give agency to astronauts over what they eat; and enhance flavor and the sensory experience of food through umami.

Research Areas

  • Space Terroir: New flavors will evolve through the migration of ingredients to outer space; our … View full description

Fermentation in Space: From the Microbiome to the Envirome 

This research highlights the many opportunities to bring our rich culture of Earth-based fermentation practices to space. There is great potential for investigation into space fermentation—from the microbiome scale to the envirome scale—both to design beneficial applications for astronauts and to learn more about the integrated biology of the human space environment. 

Building new techniques and applications for developing space food based on fermentation can have a remarkable influence on human experience, cognitive performance, and overall wellbeing. Fermentation could be harnessed to improve astronaut gut health, which is linked to behavior and cognitive performance; manage food waste by preserving the nutritional value and flavor of fresh ingredients and space food leftovers; provide new creative modes of preparing food to give agency to astronauts over what they eat; and enhance flavor and the sensory experience of food through umami.

Research Areas

  • Space Terroir: New flavors will evolve through the migration of ingredients to outer space; our ongoing research, in collaboration with Joshua Evans, aims to map the journey of a new space "terroir." This research intends to understand how the “microbiome of the ISS” may uniquely alter the fermentation process and flavor profiles of food. We're sending a sample of miso to the ISS for 30 days on the upcoming SpaceX-20 launch. Stay tuned for more details! 
  • Recipe Development: We're developing a suite of fermentation-based recipes for space. Astronauts experience a decreased sense of smell and taste due to fluid shifts in the body, and harnessing fermentation techniques to enhance flavor could improve the perceived quality of food. These techniques could also provide a new creative mode of preparing food to give agency to astronauts over what they eat. 
  • Closed Loop Food Systems: We are exploring new techniques for developing space food based on fermentation with the Basque Culinary Center. We could manage food waste in space by preserving the nutritional value and flavor of rare fresh ingredients with lacto-fermentation and by utilizing food scraps to make custom ferments. 
  • Microbiome + Astronaut Gut Health: There is a precedent for studying the microbiome of the International Space Station (ISS)  and other contained terrestrial environments. Studies in these environments are concerned with the detection of microbes; the pathogenicity of microbes in such environments; and changes to microbes in such environments. Yet there are not any studies concerned with relationships between microbes and astronauts in food and diet. There is thus great potential for further investigation into fermentation in space. The consumption of fermented foods may also improve astronaut gut health which is linked to behavior and cognitive performance. 

Testing + Deployment 

  • International Space Station: We are sending five payloads—including a space food experiment—to the ISS for 30 days on the upcoming SpaceX-20 launch. Stay tuned for more details! 
  • Zero Gravity Flight: We charter an annual parabolic flight (20 zero-g parabolas, 25 researchers, 15 experiments), with a focus on prototypes uniquely designed for the affordances of microgravity. In August 2019, we flew a multi-course tasting menu (including miso-based products) to better understand the sensory experience of flavor (e.g., umami) in zero g. 
  • Research Collaboration with NASA Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH): We are actively developing a suite of health-focused food products and systems that will improve cognitive performance and overall wellness.