An astronaut who grew up in Nebraska is at the Iowa State Fair today (Tuesday), touting soybeans as a crop to grow for food on long space flights, like a manned trip to Mars. “Given the distances away, the travel times involved, we need to have smarter ways to provide for the crews,” astronaut Clayton Anderson says. “You simply can’t take everything with you anymore.” Anderson is scheduled to be on the next Space Shuttle flight — when the shuttle program resumes. He’ll be dropped off at the International Space Station and will conduct experiments. “I consider myself a jack of all trades, master of none, but hopefully I’ll be good enough for government work,” Anderson says. (photo above shows right to left:Anderson and ISU professor Tony Pometto)
Iowa State University food scientist Lester Wilson is a NASA faculty fellow, and he has helped the space agency develop soybeans as food for the astronauts. Wilson says one of the greatest concerns for astronauts is they lose bone mass in space, and soy helps maintain calcium in the body. Another big plus for the ‘bean is that soy is a protein source, according to Wilson. A third benefit: soybeans provide necessary oils for the diet, too. “We would have then a food product that would be used in a variety of ways,” Wilson says. “Soybeans were chosen for these long-duration missions and planetary (installations) like on Mars.” NASA scientists believe they could set up something similar to an earth-bound greenhouse on Mars to grow soybeans. Wilson’s work with NASA is set to end in December, partly because NASA has new priorities.
Wilson says NASA is now focused on building a new vehicle that will replace the shuttle, and shifting more of its money to that project. The research Wilson has been working on will likely benefit astronauts who may fly on to Mars. Some soybean plants and other crops have been grown at the International Space Station. Wilson says NASA hasn’t certified the crops being grown by the Russians on the International Space Station as safe to eat yet, however.