Keeping the astronauts healthy is a pre-requisite for the success of any space mission and vast investments have been made in the past to develop highly convenient foods that can be consumed with minimum preparation protocol under zero gravity condition. While earlier missions were of a few days duration, the advent of the permanent International Space Station, manned together by the US and the Russia, called for months of stay in the outer space by a group of astronauts. In a new approach to the issue, attempts are being made to grow fresh foods using new technologies that can be adopted for the purpose.
"Among all foods, carrots have the highest carotenoid content. They also contain a natural pigment known for provitamin A and have been associated with protection against cancer, cardiovascular diseases, cataracts and macular degeneration as well as enhancing the immune response. Astronauts can be exposed to elevated levels of radiation, which might put them at risk for some types of cancer. Researchers believe that the addition of unprocessed carrots to their diets may help reduce the negative effects of radiation and cancer development. The hydroponically grown carrots were issued nutrients in two different methods. One method is the nutrient film technique (NFT), in which the roots were exposed to a nutrient solution within a plastic film trough. The second method is the microporous tube membrane system (MTMS), in which nutrient tubes were embedded into Turface—a material similar to crushed clay— where the carrots were planted".
Space exploration efforts during the last 43 years have thrown up a number of spin offs for the civilian population in almost all areas of human endeavor. Probably the space technology for carrot production may eventually become a 'terra firma' phenomenon soon and it is a question of time before fresh produce obtained by this space age technology become common in the market place. Vertical farms may become viable if land availability and cost become critical in the coming years.