8
$\begingroup$

NOTE: This question is inspired by my own answer to a previous question. There is no duplication. See What do stranded astronauts eat in space


Scenario

On a mining planet where there are vast deserts/wastelands. Food is supplied from the main base. Small vehicles carry mining-scouts long distances from the base. The planet is subject to huge storms that can make rescue impracticable for long periods of time. In case of vehicular breakdown, lack of food can become a problem.

The scouts vehicles have many metal parts but a lot of the interior furnishings (the seats etc.) are made of a durable but edible substances. This is sufficient to sustain the occupants for many weeks.

Historical examples

In all of the following, partly edible vehicles could have been highly advantageous.

  1. On Oct. 13, 1972, a Uruguayan air force plane, carrying the Old Christians Club rugby team, crashed in the Andes mountains of Chile. Facing starvation and death, the survivors reluctantly resorted to cannibalism. Among the 45 people on board, 28 survived the initial crash. After 72 days on the glacier , 16 people were rescued. Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 https://www.britannica.com/event/Uruguayan-Air-Force-flight-571

  2. There are anecdotes of polar explorers being forced to kill and eat their sled-dogs when rations ran low.

  3. During the Lunar landing, "the descent stage was left on the moon, while the ascent stage crashed into the moon’s surface once the astronauts returned to the Command Module" https://apollo11space.com/nasas-apollo-11-lunar-module-basic-facts/ Had those stages been edible, the space shot would have been feasible with a smaller payload.

Question

An edible vehicle would require many of its parts to be highly durable but nutritious when eaten directly by humans. Is there already a substance available that would fulfil this role? If not, how difficult/easy would it be to develop?

Note

In response to comments, this substance is for emergency meals only. It is only deployed when normal food runs out and there is danger of starvation. Whether it tastes good is irrelevant as long as it keeps the crew alive long enough to be rescued. Part of the substance's specification is that it does not go rotten but is structurally strong. I'm asking if such a substance is feasible with modern technology or could be in future.

$\endgroup$
11
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ As far as I see unless it follows the example of some highly industrialized products not even we should eat, whatever components that are edible to you will be edible to bacteria, so I'd see a risk with such a concept. $\endgroup$ – ProjectApex Jun 18 '20 at 22:42
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Why make vehicle components edible? Why not just make each vehicle mandatorily store calorie-dense food (packaged and preserved properly)? If you get creative with use of space, you could store the food packages in otherwise unused space (such as inside the seats, etc.) $\endgroup$ – cowlinator Jun 18 '20 at 23:15
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ They would need extra considerations, such as maintaining certain temperatures and humidity/moisture, and restricting exposure to sunlight. $\endgroup$ – cowlinator Jun 18 '20 at 23:45
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Bes - Not really because , according to -- angamen.com/michel-lotito-the-man-who-ate-a-plane -- Michel Lotito "had unusual capabilities of consuming non-edible objects". In other words the metal, glass and so on didn't provide him with any sustenance. I imagine he had to eat ordinary food as well in order to stay alive. $\endgroup$ – chasly - supports Monica Jun 19 '20 at 1:42
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I just found this, and all I can think about is dwarf bread: “ No one ever went hungry when they had some dwarf bread to avoid. You only had to look at it for a moment, and instantly you could think of dozens of things you'd rather eat. Your boots, for example. Mountains. Raw sheep. Your own foot” (Pratchett, Witches Abroad). I’m sure something similar probably exists in your world... $\endgroup$ – Bardic Wizard Jun 19 '20 at 5:21
3
$\begingroup$

Why not use a horse or similar mount? It has low maintenance and can self-refuel, and , in times or dire need, can be eaten.

Obviously the animal will be engineered to the specific environment.

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

I think is a really good idea. In this article you can find how with actual technology it is possible to develop an edible plastic-like substance that is used to make food wrapping.

Edit...

At the grocery store, most foods come wrapped in plastic packaging. Not only does this create a lot of waste, but thin plastic films are not great at preventing spoilage. To address these issues, scientists are now developing a biodegradable film made of milk proteins and you can eat it.

Led by Peggy Tomasula, the team at the U.S. Department of Agriculture developed an environmentally friendly film made of the milk protein casein. These films are up to 500 times better than plastics at keeping oxygen away from food and, because they are derived from milk, are biodegradable, sustainable and edible. The researchers presented their work at the 252nd National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Although the researchers’ first attempt using pure casein resulted in a strong and effective oxygen blocker, it was relatively hard to handle and would dissolve in water too quickly. So they made a few improvements, adding citrus pectin into the blend to make the packaging even stronger, and more resistant to humidity and high temperatures.

The material has a number of unique applications. In addition to being used as plastic pouches and wraps, this casein coating could be sprayed onto food, such as cereal bars or flakes.

Right now, cereals keep their crunch in milk due to a sugar coating. Instead of all that sugar, manufacturers could spray on casein-protein coatings to prevent soggy cereal.

Co-leader of the study, Laetitia Bonnaillie, says the team is currently testing applications such as single-serve, edible food wrappers. Individual dried soup portions, or instant coffee wrapped in the film can be added to hot water where the film readily dissolves, eliminating the packaging waste. Because single-serve pouches would need to stay sanitary on store shelves, they would have to be encased in a larger plastic or cardboard container to prevent them from getting wet or dirty.

Tomasula and her team hope in the future their casein based film helps foods keep fresh during shipping while decreasing the amount of plastic waste entering landfills.

So I suppose that this technology is an really early stage from developing some really rigid and sturdy material that can have many uses.

$\endgroup$
2
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ This is the start of a very good answer. If you could include the salient bits from your link that describe the milk/pectin product and a few other details, that would avoid the inevitable link-rot that makes articles inaccesible over time. $\endgroup$ – A Rogue Ant. Jun 19 '20 at 3:11
  • $\begingroup$ Yes. I'd be interested in seeing how this technology could be adapted. At the moment I'm not sure that wrapping paper would be rigid or durable enough. $\endgroup$ – chasly - supports Monica Jun 21 '20 at 21:49
1
$\begingroup$

Utility Rovers for Remote Operations have been a staple of prospecting across many millenia and many worlds. They can be made of many substances; on a partially terraformed world with Earth-origin plants, the Biological Utility Rover for Remote Operations has proven popular and is edible. Additional chemical processing is required to make it palatable, but many Earth-origin shrubs have woody cores that can be used to construct a carbon-based plasma that will trigger the Maillard reactions.

Advantages of the BURRO approach:

  • Unlimited range in terraformed areas with water.
  • Effective on uneven terrain.
  • Waste products can be combusted to produce a morale-enhancing contained plasma reaction.
  • Builds morale by empathic connection with pilot.

Disadvantages of the BURRO:

  • Limited to terraformed areas with drinkable water
  • Low maximum speed
  • Small temperature and atmospheric composition range
  • Empathic connection with pilot renders consumption traumatic.
  • Can go off course at night if not properly secured and it thinks somewhere else is more interesting than where you are.

For a high tech society, the possibility of a bioengineered lifeform that can consume alien organisms and convert them to human-suitable food comes up. That would, of course, have to be tailored to the ecology of the particular host world. For the next step up, the pilot could be modified to be able to consume alien life. This still needs to be host world specific, and is likely two-part: the miner has modifications that make it easy for them to host symbionts, and only the symbionts need to be swapped out per-world.

Now, for a mechanical rover of some sort, the first question is always "why not just make it bigger and add an extra pemmican compartment?". If scouting normally involves bringing a lot of ore/samples back to base and the weather is predictable enough that the satellites can tell you when a dust storm is coming far in advance, that really seems like the best option. But that's not at all what you were asking for.

Light, durable, and strong, dried balsa meat has been used to construct the frames of small aircraft, tent poles, and rovers for centuries. An early product of genetic manipulation, its impact on culture cannot be understated; there is even a Terran tree named after it. You can eat it, though it takes a very long time to soften up enough to chew. It tastes much, much better than the leather hull of your rover or the wings of your glider do. In a pinch the balsa meat wheel-rims can be eaten, though they can lead to poisoning if you've driven through particularly toxic terrain. The repair kit includes several extra panels of hull leather, a full set of six new balsa meat rover wheels, and several balsa meat spars.

The contoured grip on the rover gearshaft and the buttons on your keyboard are made of dried shelf fungus (the internet assures me that I can eat some shelf fungi today), carved into the desired shape and coated with a biologically inert shellac which, while it contains no nutritive value, is perfectly safe to eat. The seat cushions are a plastic foam honeycomb, each cell containing approximately a single meal's worth of various Foods™, perfectly nutritionally balanced. These don't actually taste bad - the deterrent to eating them is the fact that the seat will be a lot less COMFORTABLE once you've eaten all the Szechuan Cream of Wheat, Spicy Minty Peas, and Professional Rose Chili (genetic engineering produced non-flatulence-inducing beans centuries ago, but it turned out that what the market really wanted was not a reduction of flatulence but rather an improvement of aroma.).

Note that atmospheres with high O2 aren't stable in nature; if an unmodified human can breathe the air, there's an ecosystem or some sort of HUGE terraforming engine on the planet - in which case foraging may become relevant. If the atmosphere is not breathable, the scout is going to need very high quality atmosphere regeneration tech. The atmosphere regenerator might also have the ability to output some catalytic chemicals that convert tough and inedible construction materials to digestible form.

Also, while a mining-dominated planet already implies cheap space travel (difficult to imagine raw materials worth taking from Mars to Earth in large amounts, for instance), a single-industry planet only works if space travel is RIDICULOUSLY cheap - say, a giant wormhole with trains to Earth running through it. There will be plenty of other industries at the main base, at least for domestic consumption - farming, for example. If the planet is also in the process of being terraformed the manual for strandees may include instructions for optimum distribution of terran-ecosystem fertilizer and seeds of the seventeen useful plants.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

I can't say how long it sustained them but IRL people have eaten leather to ward off starvation.

$\endgroup$
1
  • $\begingroup$ Well, in that case I'm happy to cover the seats with leather. I still need to make edible frames for them though. Bones maybe? $\endgroup$ – chasly - supports Monica Jun 21 '20 at 21:54

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.