Victor Glover is one of the astronauts that returned from space on May 2. The pilot and second-in-command for the recent space mission, Glover was flying to space for the first time. On his expedition, he was a part of NASA’s Human Research Program which studies the physiological changes that happen to astronauts’ bodies when they go to space. The program is trying to find how the current spaceflight diet can be enhanced to be healthier and fitter to the astronauts’ needs. To understand the physiological effects of the current space food on astronauts, NASA scientist Dr Grace Douglas is conducting a study. Douglas is the lead scientist for the HRP’s Advanced Food Technology Project and works at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston.
Glover was provided with an “enhanced” diet compared to regular space food the other astronauts were consuming. The enhanced diet - developed before the launch of his mission - was loaded with foods full of nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, lycopene and flavonoids. To assess how the enhanced diet is affecting the astronaut’s immune system, Glover was asked to stick to the diet and log his food intakes. He had to contact Douglas’s team every week for an update and advice.
The participant astronaut also provides blood, urine, saliva and faecal samples to the researchers. The samples are collected before, on and after the space flight. Before Glover, Christopher Cassidy has also been a participant for the program, who went to space in April 2020 and returned in October.
Leaving the protective shield of the earth’s environment changes the human body. Apart from space radiation and other things, there are no grocery stores in space. However, astronauts can choose from a range of foods, which they carry aboard their spacecraft, such as candies, brownies, seafood, chicken, beef, fruits, nuts, peanut butter and more. Most of these foods are freeze-dried to avoid spoilage and packaged to last years. The food contributes to a big chunk of the weight of a spacecraft. The ongoing research can help make lighter spaceships by developing more efficient foods for astronauts.