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One of the basic requirements for life is food. One of the basic requirements of engineering is that we lift off with as little mass as possible. If we choose to explore the solar system we would need some form of farming, probably on foreign bodies. We could choose to bring soil with us, use hydroponic techniques, or possibly create food through from a raw atomic constituents (or perhaps nearly so).

Could food be developed in a laboratory setting? That is, could amino acids and other nutrients be created in a laboratory setting and used as the basis for food in space?

If this is viable how would it compare against traditional farming and hydroponics? What factors would set each option apart?

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    $\begingroup$ Algae is also an option. And traditional farming is much less efficient than hydroponics, which produces 3 to 10 times more food per area or something like that, and which does not require you to take dirt with you (over a ton per cubic meter, and every gram counts on a spaceship). Traditional farming is used on earth because it does not take a lot of labor or capital investment and as there is a lot of land available for it, but in space, area and mass budget for growing crops are limited and it will be avoided. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 1, 2020 at 3:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Richard Smith ... ... ... Yoink! $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 1, 2020 at 4:02
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    $\begingroup$ What you're talking about, at least for meat products, is called cultured meat: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultured_meat. There is attention on the idea at the present because of climate change. Plant products are much harder and more expensive to replace in this fashion, and hydroponics is almost certainly a better solution than synthetic vegetables. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 1, 2020 at 5:09

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Hydroponically grown food is probably the easiest option growing whole plants under controlled conditions. This has been attempted on the International Space Station and is likely to be used during any future human exploration of Mars, however the energy space and processing requirements are likely to limit the quantity that can be grown on a space craft in space and for early missions at least the majority of the food would be taken prepacked.

A range of cultured foods are is also possible taking plant or animal cells and growing them in vats or on special media. Cultured meats have already been mentioned and would be possible on spacecraft however there would be many obstacles such as growing tissue under micro gravity and the provision of all the required nutrients and growing media in a mass efficient way.

It is theoretically possible to create food by chemical synthesis of the component parts as that’s in effect what happens in nature under controlled conditions within animal and plant cells. However the problems of orchestrating the vast array of reactions involved are formidable. A selection of some of the reactions required can be seen here:

I suggest that this is not remotely feasible as technology currently stands but might be possible one day.

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Yes

About two years ago, children received artificially-grown ear transplants. Companies that want to grow meat in a lab without animals have been getting funding. And the cost is falling dramatically:

In 2013, when a burger made from lab-grown meat was presented to journalists, the patty cost more than \$300,000 to produce and was overly dry (from too little fat). Expenses have since fallen. Memphis Meats reported this year that a quarter-pound of its ground beef costs about \$600.

Today, such technology is in its infancy (the first example burger wasn't even ten years ago), and is advancing fairly rapidly despite there not being a dire need for the technology. You can bet a society that's serious about space colonization is going to have a much more pressing motivation to invest heavily in rapidly maturing this technology and getting it ready for mass production.

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  • $\begingroup$ Note: Answer deliberately left as-is. The dollar signs in the quote seem to have broken one of the Seven Seals of the Apocalypse and I want the site's devs to be able to repro the issue easily. $\endgroup$
    – Ton Day
    Commented Jan 1, 2020 at 4:57
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    $\begingroup$ It's not an issue. Is called mathjax formatting. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Jan 1, 2020 at 5:02
  • $\begingroup$ Nifty. That being the case, escaping the dollar signs fixed the issue. Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – Ton Day
    Commented Jan 1, 2020 at 5:05
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In Isaac Asimov's Robot books, humanity is sealed underground and their main source of food is hydroponically grown yeast. There are many strains of yeast, all of them genetically engineered to have different characteristics.

Depending on the technology available in your universe, one feasible way of feeding people in space would be to genetically engineer multiple strains of yeast to maximize nutritional content, flavor, and texture. If I recall correctly, there's even a strain of yeast that can imitate the flavor of beef!

If the people in your story have the means to create an outer space food production facility, it isn't too much of a stretch to say that genetic engineering has progressed a fair deal as well. People could tailor yeast (or any other food for that matter) to suit their needs by messing around with their genetic makeup.

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