Chef Young Cho Looks To Diversify Food for NASA Astronauts Headed to Mars

Working on a variation of Korean bibimbap that can sustain space travel.

Food & Beverage
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With the limitation of food brought into and grown in space, NASA has developed a contest to expand the menu for future Mars colonists. Currently in the Deep Space Food Challenge, is Seattle-based chef Young Cho along with his team who are looking to advance in the next round of the competition in order improve current food items and expound on possibilities for astronauts.

For decades NASA has been working with food engineers rather than chefs as the curation of edible items in space is a delicate art considering hazard restrictions such as flammability, lifespan, and texture — crumbs can be just as bad as a fire. With that, scientists have been racking their brains around the idea of figuring out what kinds of food can be grown in space yet the only type that has been able to sprout life is lettuce.

Due to the extensive periods of travel, mental health also plays a significant role in relation to food, so eating meals with no flavor or out of tubes doesn’t really scream appeal. Compared to earlier years of space travel, astronauts are currently able to enjoy pre-packed produce, Nissin cup noodles in the form of balls known as “space ram” soup, and Taco Bell tortillas.

But now, Chef Cho and his team dubbed as “Ad Astra” are working on reinventing food with no additives and with the capability for longer shelf life such as Peanut M&M’s. Aside from working on current options, the Ad Astra team also has the intention of culturally diversifying the menu. As a Korean American, Cho and the team are trying to create a variation of Korean bibimbap and experimenting on the use of unusual seasonings such as burdock root and balloon flower to give a kick of flavor due to the tendency of potency to diminish during travel.

“Not all astronauts are white, you know,” said Cho to Eater Seattle. “So if you’re able to recreate the food they’re familiar with, I think it’ll be special for them to be able to feel like they’re still grounded.”

Teams to advance in the next round of the NASA Deep Space Food Challenge will be announced this September.

Elsewhere in food, Disney World is introducing a space-themed restaurant.

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