With NASA planning to eventually get people to Mars, and with privately funded attempts such as Mars-One planning to do the same, and relatively soon, there is the issue of having to feed anyone you send for the 6 or so months journey.

(Obviously the issue extends to when you reach the planet but this question is focused on in flight food production as this deals more with the realm of long distance, manned space exploration)

What technologies currently exist or what research is being done focusing on sustainable food production for these long, manned, exploration trips?

  • $\begingroup$ For six months, packing rations really isn't a huge mass hit if water is recycled to some extent. With a mix of primarily dehydrated and a little luxury food that comes out to around 100 kg / person. The question of growing food on the Martian surface, where the timescale is at least 4x longer and the mass/volume is more expensive than cruise, is an interesting one that I'd like to see answered. $\endgroup$ – pericynthion Sep 16 '16 at 5:06

The largest scale experiment to test out such ideas was the Biosphere 2. The experiment was probably more akin to setting up a habitat on Mars than growing in a spacecraft, but it is a good starting point for all such technologies.

Basically, the facility was set up so that 8 people could live there for an indefinite period of time, growing their own food, and maintaining the equipment and environment. In practice, it is quite similar to the type of environment that might exist on a Mars colony.

The program was plagued with issues, which I will point you to the Wikipedia page to learn more about, but it was largely sustainable, and later versions actually worked quite well.

Furthermore, there has been several programs to grow plants on board the International Space Station, and while they aren't a significant part of the diet yet, they have been eaten. They are working to improve these programs constantly.


China conducted a 105-day controlled environment project with a crew of three scientists in 2014. In the facility (called Yuegong-1) five kinds of cereals, fifteen kinds of vegetables, and one kind of fruit were grown. Yellow mealworms were grown as well for protein. The mission completed successfully. China hopes to utilize this facility as a testbed for the controlled environment that will be in place in their completed space station (Tiangong).


Yeah, it would be great if you could build a module that has small robots in it that grow some kind of nice, sustainable, diet for many people. I think it's more likely we'll grow into some kind of Iain Banks type planet cloud rather than really live well on other bodies in the Solar System. That being said, you'd then grow food in an artificial environment that would have to be heavily maintained. It would probably need to keep being fed somehow with solar/fusion and raw material floating around.

Take a look at a TED talk about vertical farming in shipping containers and vertical farming in Europe using greenhouses. I think that's a good starting place, but you'd need to get numbers for how many plants, which plants, and how much mass of CHNOPS elements you'd need to keep the cycle going. I imagine that, plus asteroid and comet elements, robots doing the work, and some kind of set mass for your crew. Plus, maybe some of that new lab-grown meat onboard.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You may provide link to resources you mention (the TED talk) $\endgroup$ – Manu H Jul 20 at 22:53

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.