Mysuru: Astronauts going out in space exploration missions would often have to forego their favourite food items and survive on canned food. India’s first-ever manned space mission Gaganyan is now set to change that.
Mysuru-based Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL) will prepare food that will suit the palate of the four Indian astronauts (Gagannauts) to be trained for the week-long sojourn in outer space. Four pilots of the Indian Air Force (IAF) are undergoing training in Russia with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to undertake the mission that will be launched in 2022.
While the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) is busy designing menus, DFRL is working on adapting a range of packaged food items that it makes for soldiers deployed on harsh missions.
“For the Indian astronauts scheduled to go into Space in Mission Gaganyan, food items including egg rolls, veg rolls, idli, moong dal halwa and veg pulav have been prepared by the DFRL. Food heaters would also be provided to them,” news agency ANI has tweeted.
Some special ‘desi’ food items are being prepared for the Gagannauts which includes delicious food items such as idli, veg pulav and moong dal halwa. Other items on the menu are dal, aloo parathas, chicken curry, pulao and almonds. These foods that will be available to the Gagannauts on board the craft are being subjected to stringent quality control on par with US-NASA standards at DFRL.
The Gagannauts’ breakfast, lunch and dinner menu will draw from a spread of 30 Indian dishes and fruit juices — in all weighing 60 kg and 100 litres of water. The food will be packed in a ready-to-eat manner with only addition of water required to reconstitute it. Care will have to be taken by the astronauts to eat the food, as any spillage would cause issues in an anti-gravity environment.
Waiting for government nod
Roti rolls, two-minute idli-sambar, ready-to-eat courses made of rice, lentils and millets, Khichdi, beaten rice delicacies, energy-filled nuggets, munches, bars, beet, mango and pineapple sips that don’t spill in the space capsule, even specially toasted potato chips await the Government’s green signal to travel to the space along with Gagannauts.
The freshness and quality of the food will be ensured, and the Gagannauts will also be provided with food heaters to keep their food warm. Items will be mildly spiced with options to add to the spiciness as required. Special containers are also being developed for the Gagannauts to enable them to continue having liquids such as fruit juice and water as well.
Flavour modified to suit taste
“We have sent samples (of the dishes and other eatables) to ISRO for tests with regard to palatability and other factors like zero microbe standards. Some of them will be tasted by the IAF pilots short-listed by ISRO for the space flight. The flavour will be modified to suit their taste,” Dr. Anil Dutt Semwal, Director of DFRL, told reporters on the sidelines of the 107th Indian Science Congress held in Bengaluru recently.
The drinks will come with special straws that flap back after a sip, so that the droplets from the sachet remain within. A team of 20 scientists at the DFRL laboratory are working on the design of these straws, the sachets, and even the bins in which the food remains can be safely trashed.
Space is a big challenge
Dr. Semwal spoke about the same topic during the first Army conference on ‘Empowering Field Army through Food Technology’ in Bengaluru. Space, he said, will be the lab’s new big challenge after helping soldiers of the Army, Navy and Air Force nutritionally conquer harsh, sub-zero, hot, hilly, undersea or flying conditions.
He said the food will be wrapped in special disposable packaging material designed to prevent contamination. The eatables can be warmed using the food warmers on board the spacecraft. “Every dish will be mildly spicy but we will provide extra taste makers if the astronauts want to eat highly spiced food,” he added.
Dr. Semwal said nutrition bars, powdered fruit juice, almonds and nuts will form part of the food package for the Gagannauts so that they can snack during breaks. Asked why the lab was following standards set by NASA and not Russia where the four pilots will be trained, he said the US space agency followed extremely stringent quality control standards.
Rakesh Sharma’s menu
Currently, DFRL has food products that have a shelf life of 18 months which can be extended up to 36 months. DFRL’s products were part of Rakesh Sharma’s menu on the space expedition aboard Russia’s Soyuz T-11 in 1984. Sharma had consumed mango bars developed by DFRL.
At the Army conference exhibition, various technologies developed by DFRL, Central Food Technological Research Institute and private firms were displayed. Among the recent innovations of DFRL were three varieties of medicine for sea-sickness — nutribite, fruit leather and ginger tamarind extract. Other products included ready-to-eat food, juices, preservatives and detection kits.
Astronaut, Cosmonaut and Gagannaut
Cosmonauts are people trained and certified by the Russian Space Agency to work in space. Astronauts are people trained and certified by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), European Space Agency, Canadian Space Agency and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to work in space.
Indian ‘astronauts’ are known as Gagannauts, from the Hindi word for sky. This is the officially recognised term, though these have been some use of the term, ‘Voyomanauts,’ from the Sanskrit word for sky. Each is combined with the Latin ‘naut’ meaning ‘traveller’ or ‘sailor.’
While the three terms may seem functionally equivalent, they differ slightly because of the different operational philosophies of the different space agencies. These different philosophies result in slightly different skill sets and knowledge areas.