This research highlights opportunities to bring the rich culture of Earth-based fermentation practices to space to design beneficial applications for astronauts and novel ways of managing waste. To support future crews on long duration deep space missions, they will require advanced space food systems to provide nourishment and improve the quality of limited fresh ingredients. In space, fermentation could be leveraged to repurpose food waste for a closed-loop system, preserve limited fresh ingredients, diversify food selection, grow nutrients, and improve astronaut gut health.
Fermentation is one of the oldest methods of food preservation and preparation. Fermentation gives food a variety of sensory attributes, such as flavors and textures, and nutritional values. In food production, fermentation is the process of transforming organic substrates such as proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, or other types of organic material through the action of enzymes produced by different microorganisms. Fermentation is largely impacted by the environment with temperature, humidity, and air quality being main factors. It is fascinating to imagine how the environment of space could uniquely alter this process.
As space agencies prepare for a new era of space exploration, and future long duration missions to the Moon or Mars, they will need to address the complex requirement of providing crews with safe, nutritious food for survival. Crews will not be able to bring everything with them and will need to learn how to produce their own food from limited resources. To achieve sustainable food systems in closed loop life support applications such as space vehicles and habitats, we propose fermentation-based food production technology and systems.