Monday, November 29, 2010

Water and Food in Space.

Time to get back on topic.  You're writing about a long trip in space or an orbital habitat.  What do they eat?  Where do they get their meals?  This may seem almost too easy for many, but sometimes readers (and hopefully agents/publishers) like an innovative twist on things some take for granted.

Keeping with my preference on adding credibility to science fiction writing, here's an article on space farms that some might find interesting.  A few interesting points - the idea that Mars may at one time have had liquid water.  Also, consider the soil on other worlds would probably have differences to Earth.  To be fair, I have read stories where they address soil concerns on planets and testing water on planets, particularly in colonization scenes/stories.

The whole issue of water could be the most important element to consider.  Writers create agricultural sections of ships and space stations like a space age greenhouse, hydroponics, or farm in space.  You can travel with soil and provide artificial light, but you'll always need water.  How do you get more water on long space voyages?  In 2009, there were news reports about astronauts drinking recycled urine, but that wouldn't be sufficient for growing crops.

I've probably said this before, but I'll say it again.  I think science fiction readers are too advanced today to just accept that people living in space can lead happy lives on just protein bars, space rations, pastes and other fabricated items.  And that still wouldn't address the need for water.

So where can you get water?  We already know that planets like Mars have water.  Neptune and Uranus are classified as "ice giants."  Although some of the ice is ammonia and methane ice, there is water.  Another source to consider - comets.  Most comets are described as frozen bodies traveling in an orbit or through space.  On November 4, a NASA Deep Impact craft flew within 435 miles of comet Hartley 2 braving, essentially, an outer space ice storm and sending back pictures of chunks of ice on the comet surface.  I'm sure there are smarter people than I who have already thought of these, but I really don't see a lack of water discussed in literature. 

In my draft novel, LEGACY SOLDIER:  HYBRIDS DEPLOYED, I did touch on some of these.  Humans populate Earth, Moon colonies, Mars colonies, and Orbital habitats.  As a result, the other human species refer to residents of our system as EMMOs.  Good thing I didn't say Lunar colonies or we'd be ELMOs.  Anyway, I hint that the primary industry on Earth at that time is agriculture.  Despite all the advances in ag tech, Earth is still the best place for growing crops.  Maybe a legal argument about rights to the water on Earth (protagonist's adoptive father is a lawyer, so I could sneak that in without slowing the rest of the story).

And, just for fun, here's another link to the 10 Ten Space Foods.  I almost laughed out loud when I saw Antimatteron the list.

Finally, another possible topic for deep space is protein.  Would living in space require everybody to turn vegan?  Colonies have livestock, but what about orbital habitats?  I would think that, even in the future, pre-packaged meats, dehydrated meats and the like could still have an expiration date or issues with packaging.  Consider exploring these and

Write On


  1. Water would be recycled in space(ships or orbiting habitats). On new planets where water is not immediately available, some form of terraforming would be necessary. There are plenty of simple chemical reactions that will add water to an atmosphere, the most efficient is to bombard the planet with asteroids. The impact frees a lot of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, just as our own planets early history.
    As for protein in a closed system like a generation ship, how about yeast cultures? Or vat grown meat products? We are close to developing both now.

  2. I was thinking more from the standpoint of water used for crops on a space station/orbital habitat where recycling wouldn't be enough. And that's assuming that recycling would meet 100% of the other needs.

    I just have a hard time buying into the basic concept that artificial nutrients would suffice for extended periods - or a lifetime.

    Nothing's perfect.