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While I do know that there is no possible explanation for how we might wake someone up from such a long sleep, I was wondering what food would be edible after one million or so years where the humans on board went into cryosleep.

I have researched long lasting foods that will last indefinitely, and so far I have only come up with oats, sugar, honey, hard liquor and white rice.

Are there any methods for preserving foods other than these that will allow it to last indefinitely?

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    $\begingroup$ And you might want to revisit your sources. If any of them claim that "indefinite storage" applied to complex biological products (specifically the oats and rice) means a million years, I suggest you find another source to learn from. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast May 29 '16 at 0:06
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    $\begingroup$ @WhatRoughBeast: The OP was probably referring to honey and grains found inside Egyptian tombs. Some of the grain still grows when planted thousands of years later and the honey still provides energy (as sugar). I agree that millions of year is too long for such storage, but simple chemical structures such as sugar and alcohol are very stable over time if stored properly. $\endgroup$ – Mark Ripley May 29 '16 at 4:36
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    $\begingroup$ Store it inside a black hole. Time stops in there so the food won't decay. $\endgroup$ – RichS May 29 '16 at 18:00
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with @yobddigi. You could probably store some basic chemicals (e.g. sugars, salts) for a million years, but such "cardboard foods" will cause nutrient deficiencies in the longer term. "Food" should be synonymous with "(recently) living", whether plant or animal based. Complex organisms (like humans) need simpler organisms to synthesize their sustenance from even simpler materials, you can't lick a rock (as if you're lichen) and hope to get (sufficient) nourishment. So your problem is very similar to keeping a human viable (through cryogenics) for the same period. $\endgroup$ – fr13d May 30 '16 at 11:35
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    $\begingroup$ So you're assuming that you have the technology to put people into some sort of cryosleep for a million years and then wake them up. You're assuming you have the technology to build machines that will continue to function for a million years without wearing out, breaking, or being damaged by outside forces, from tornadoes to asteroid strikes. And you think the civilization that can build all this will have trouble preserving food along with the people? I'd just do some of the same hand-waving that you do for all the rest and declare it accomplished. $\endgroup$ – Jay May 30 '16 at 21:03

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Put the food into cryosleep as well. If the people don't degrade, neither will the food.

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    $\begingroup$ This. Storing organic material would be easier than storing living organic material (ie the people). $\endgroup$ – Michael Richardson May 28 '16 at 14:42
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    $\begingroup$ Goodnight, oatmeal. Goodnight, apple! Goodnight, moon! $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon May 28 '16 at 17:58
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    $\begingroup$ Goodnight Moon, goodnight stars, goodnight people stuck on Mars $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak May 28 '16 at 19:16
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    $\begingroup$ Best part about this possibility is that it doesn't necessarily need to be "food" when it goes into cryo. I'd assume a cow or pig would go through cryo just as well as a human, perfect for butchering after your collective million year "nap". $\endgroup$ – Thebluefish May 29 '16 at 5:26
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    $\begingroup$ @WhiteFang - I've no idea. I don't know how your fictional cryosleep works. Even at cryo temperatures I'm dubious about simply storing freeze-dried for a million years. Let alone, for instance, guaranteeing that your cryo facility will work for that long. If it uses liquids such as helium or nitrogen I don't believe you can keep leakage low enough to operate over that period. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast May 29 '16 at 23:27
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Don't. Your ship will almost certainly need a large amount of food for after they wake up and you don't want to store that much food and take it with you.

Store a few frozen seeds with the frozen people. Defrost them months before and use hydroponics, unless you have the tech to synthesize food from the raw elements on board. PS 1 000 000 years would be a rather large timescale for such things. It would be 60 light years at the speed earth moves round the sun. Such ships would move faster and probably not as far at first.

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    $\begingroup$ Why? It's easier to take the (processed) food, you can save up on hydroponic equipment (but you might need it anyway later), and you certainly save up on necessary nutrients unprocessed into edible stuff by the plants. But you'll certainly save those few months, and it's safer (in case there is an issue with the hydroponics). Remember that the plants will still need the raw matter to produce nutrients from, and you have to take it with you anyway - it's easier to take the food. Unless you plan to recycle bodies if there is a substantial failure rate with the hibernation system. $\endgroup$ – Radovan Garabík May 28 '16 at 18:35
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    $\begingroup$ @RadovanGarabík Depending on where you're going, you should be able to find the necessary elements at your destination. $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak May 28 '16 at 19:21
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    $\begingroup$ If sure would suck if someone forgot to set the hydroponic timer before going to sleep and the passengers woke up to nothing but inedible seeds. Better stash a few 1000-year power bars too, just in case. $\endgroup$ – Johnny May 29 '16 at 16:13
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    $\begingroup$ Now you need plant-food that lasts 999 9990 years. This is probably easier than human food, but I'm not a biologist or botanist. $\endgroup$ – Peter Cordes May 30 '16 at 21:02
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    $\begingroup$ @PeterCordes We can synthesize anything the plants need from stable raw materials even today (okay, it takes sulphur from oil/coal, but that's just for economical reasons - one man's trash is another man's fortune and all that), so that's probably not a big deal. Radiation is probably a bigger issue, but again, if you can keep humans alive for so long, you can keep their food fresh as well. You could have a very unpleasant awakening if any of those systems fail during the million-year long trip, though. $\endgroup$ – Luaan May 31 '16 at 8:19
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A functioning ecosystem could work.

The ship would need to provide a contained space housing plants and animals that would breed and die over generations. Flora and fauna would evolve and change over a million years, but the food would likely still be edible.

I suspect any contained and artificial ecosystem would need to be highly tuned to prevent its eventual collapse, but it is doable. We're here after all and the Earth has been hurtling through space for billions of years.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think that would work. Ecosystems are inherently chaotic systems and trying to engender stability for 1 million years is a TASK. Besides, to have a functioning ecosystem, one need microbes including bacteria, viruses, fungi and other stuff that could evolve to infect the crew. This is likely the worst option. $\endgroup$ – Plinth May 28 '16 at 14:23
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    $\begingroup$ Also, consider the laws of thermodynamics. This probably wouldn't work, robots are more efficient at collecting energy than ecosystems. $\endgroup$ – Simply Beautiful Art May 28 '16 at 17:29
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    $\begingroup$ Actually you do not need worry about mutations, until you have tech working for millions years. Once you need is just record all genetic structures you like. Eco system is just a database of biological form, and system that may work with that data - so if there is left only one percent of original data - you just pick some samples from that one percent and make new eco system. If necessary you may just synthesize necessary genes and place them back. 100 years before awakening - just take all necessary and setup eco like in old earth - everything will be original 100%. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg May 29 '16 at 19:11
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    $\begingroup$ Keep a watchdog procedure in the system that will automatically spawn tyranosaures after some time, so they eat everything and die and decompose and you can start over with new line of new plants. Fun! (especially if the crew accidentally wakes up during that period. Hey, we've got plenty of food. Guarded by a dinos. What?!) $\endgroup$ – quetzalcoatl May 30 '16 at 10:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Plinth Once you have a functioning ecosystem, you could keep a few "warm" humans around to take care of the systems and monitor them. Of course, your story will then most likely focus on those people during the trip, rather than the icicles :P $\endgroup$ – Luaan May 31 '16 at 8:21
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Made on demand food. Very stable building blocks like sugars, water, amino acids and the like are stored or harvested and food is assembled on demand. Like 3D printing a steak and potatoes, building the components from simple ingredients.

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There are currently no methods for preserving food as long as a million years. If someone claims they have such a method, your correct response to their claim should be "Have you tested it with a million years trial to confirm it works?". Claims of ancient seeds thousands of years old that are still viable have been made, but it looks those claims have not been conclusively proven.

If you are willing to use methods of long term food preservation that don't exist yet (science fiction) you might consider:

  1. Extreme cold tends to really slow down chemical reactions. If you store foods close to absolute zero and hand-wave some technology that prevents the physical damage caused by the freezing process (mostly caused by water expanding into ice crystals, breaking the frozen item's structure), you can say that you use cryofreeze for long term storage. The advantage of using this method in a story is that in deep space keeping things really cold is not difficult.

  2. Long term biospheres to allow food to survive thousands of generations works only if you are able to sustain a biosphere for that long. We know it works in principle, since this is how the Earth works to provide the food we eat. The problem comes in making a much smaller biosphere such as in a spaceship sustainable over long periods of time. One way to explain how your spaceship biosphere remains stable is to create a supervisory computer that regulates problems that will occur in the spaceship biosphere over time.

  3. If you want to go really high tech, you can avoid the preserving/storage problem entirely. Just have your computer build DNA for all the life you want to put into your biosphere from information it has stored and from basic chemicals. If the computer jumpstarts a biosphere when the spaceship gets to its destination a million years later, the only reliable storage needs to be for the data and the ability of the DNA reproduction machinery to last that long.

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    $\begingroup$ While it's not a million years, Honey has been proven to store well for thousands of years. $\endgroup$ – Johnny May 29 '16 at 19:28
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    $\begingroup$ "and the ability of the DNA reproduction machinery to last that long" How long has that computer you wrote this answer on been working, again? How long has the currently oldest still in use computer been working? (I'm guessing it'd be one on one of the space probes on their way through the outer solar system -- one of the Voyagers, maybe? -- and that's still only a few tens of years.) $\endgroup$ – a CVn May 30 '16 at 12:36
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    $\begingroup$ About your 1., here is a nice example of hand-waved technology you could have in your freezer right now! $\endgroup$ – Édouard May 31 '16 at 1:10
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    $\begingroup$ Keeping things cold in deep space isn't as easy as you might think. All those life support systems and (if you're accelerating throughout) propulsion will generate tons of waste heat. The only sustainable way to keep temperature low is radiation, and the lower your temperature, the lower the radiation - keeping something "close to absolute zero" would be a considerable effort, especially as you get close (or under!) the background radiation. And any active refrigeration system will produce even more waste heat. $\endgroup$ – Luaan May 31 '16 at 8:24
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Preserve the food using the same methods used on the crew. Perhaps that means putting livestock into cryosleep if "dead" things can't work with the same methods.

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Just sterilize it.

If the environment is sterilized, food won't decay. Just bathe the whole pantry in radiation, let out the air (you're in space, right?), and it'll last forever. Water will sublimate out of the food though, so you'll want to start with freeze-dried stuff to begin with or it'll taste like bad freezer-burn.

Something to be concerned about: cosmic rays may cause the food molecules to degrade into dust over millions of years. Make sure your pantry is well-shielded. If you're traveling in interstellar space far away from any stars, though, this should be less of an issue.

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A million years?! That is a near unsolvable problem. You cannot bring anything that you expect to grow, because growing requires functioning DNA. And DNA degrades over time, with a half-life of only little over 500 years.

You would have to go for really basic substances... almost down to elements, like carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen and phosphorous, and then reconstitute those into basic nutrients like vitamins, hydrocarbons and such.

Then there is also the problem of surviving a cryosleep that long. What I said about DNA degrading over time also goes for your travelers. Their DNA will degrade over time. And without functioning DNA, they will not wake up again. Or if they do, they will soon die pretty much as if they has walked into a running nuclear reactor.

However... handwaving away the problem the problem of DNA degradation — maybe by not putting them in actual cryo-sleep but in a form of stasis, where the DNA repair mechanisms of the body can do their work — then it could work. But since foods are "dead" already, DNA repair on things you would want to grow cannot work. So you are stuck with what I said above: reconstitute nutrients from basic elements, because you cannot bring organics and expect them to hold for a million years. You have to bring things that cannot spoil... and only basic substances and elements have that quality.

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for the down-vote, whoever that was. Care to say why too?! $\endgroup$ – MichaelK May 29 '16 at 20:14
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    $\begingroup$ DNA half life depends on temperature. $\endgroup$ – Donald Hobson May 30 '16 at 13:51
  • $\begingroup$ @DonaldHobson You still are going to have one hell of a time trying to prove viability over a million years. $\endgroup$ – MichaelK May 30 '16 at 16:45
  • $\begingroup$ Randall's What If? book covers what happens to a human if the DNA vanished. Turns out, death. But not quite as quickly as this answer presumes. $\endgroup$ – user1975 May 30 '16 at 17:01
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Hard Scifi Answer

Sorry kind of side stepped the problem but here would by a solution.

Develop nanobots that repair themselves and the spaceship elements and periodically the people in cryo. This can be tested for stability against various challenges (radiation, extreme cold, heat, electrical burnouts, vacuum) before leaving on the voyage. Nanobots would have a swarm intelligence and read molecular layouts so everything is in a sort of stasis. With this tech, some humans could could continue to live on as caretakers as well. With their DNA being continually repaired to that of 20 year olds.

Then for story elements...

Of course after a million years the nanobots have developed sentience and view humans as babies, irrelevant, gods, or raw materials. Take your pick and the human caretakers are no longer human but have changed themselves due to modifying the stasis layouts of their DNA....

For the science http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/0957-4484/15/11/045/meta

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    $\begingroup$ "Hard Scifi Answer"? More somewhere in between soft and hard scifi. $\endgroup$ – Hohmannfan May 30 '16 at 16:40
  • $\begingroup$ Why would you say soft science, scientist are already working on developing molecular assembers, we already have a working models of self-repair in DNA and and molecular assemblers such as RNA and mRNA. A stasis field is soft science as there would be no forseeable mechanism for it to work. This type of tech is forseeable in the next 100 years which given the timescale of the voyage is insignificant. link $\endgroup$ – Dudley Fagan May 30 '16 at 17:04
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    $\begingroup$ Mostly because you're treating the nanobots as magic. There's plenty of issues that are fundamentally problematic for any small machine - heat management, radiation shielding, power supply, propulsion... No nanobot is going to go and fix your spaceship. Current attempts mostly focus on medical use and experiments in highly controlled environments - and the truth is, medicine and metamaterials are probably the only places where nanomachines will get any traction. And I wouldn't be so sure about the metamaterials either :D $\endgroup$ – Luaan May 31 '16 at 8:29
  • $\begingroup$ No I'm treating nanobots as an infant science. Not magic. All the pieces exist already to create micromachines that can repair at a cellular level, (because they already exist in nature) manipulating materials for construction outside of biology is in prototype stage, theoretical with computer models, but it's not magic... there a definable steps in the real world to get there. $\endgroup$ – Dudley Fagan May 31 '16 at 13:50
  • $\begingroup$ see imm.org for some ideas of where things are at today... on a million year journey where would things be. $\endgroup$ – Dudley Fagan May 31 '16 at 13:57
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Sterilizing it is an option except that any method we have for that damages the nutrition severely.

Poisoning it (like with liquor or preservatives) also isn't necessarily the best option.

But the other items you listed follow the principle that each of these foods is incomplete... it's a very terrible food on its own, and has to be added to other things to be a proper diet. Microorganisms need to live on top of the thing, not just eat it... they won't take a piece of one and drag it to the other part (like bringing the rice to water or vice versa) so they don't seem to ever touch consume them. Surely in the future you could separate the components from the food without damaging them too badly (eg. condensed milk tastes horrible because it's so damaged, worse than pasteurization).

And one example you didn't list... butter will go bad, but clarified butter takes an extremely long time (not ever scientifically tested to the limit as far as I can tell... maybe forever if produced perfectly and kept out of the sun, cold, etc.). So not just carbs, but fats also can last long. When you clarify the butter, ideally use sour butter which has less/no sugar, and you are removing milk solids, water, etc. so it's the same concept.

Also if you pile enough salt on meat so it soaks right through and sucks out all the moisture (like a whole leg of prosciutto), it lasts enormously long. It only expires quickly after you unbury it or slice it up. And even then, it might just dry up worse and not really rot very fast.

And it'll still break down possibly, but not so much by ordinary life forms. Also as stated in other answers, you still can never be sure since nobody tested such things for a million years. Maybe nothing will be perfect, but a combination of things will be closer than any single method, and close enough for your space voyage.

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    $\begingroup$ Sadly, a lot of huge molecules like proteins simple collapse over time, regardless of sterilization or pureness. The only way to slow the self-induced process it to cool the food to a low temperature. $\endgroup$ – Hohmannfan May 30 '16 at 15:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Hohmannfan I agree and that's why I mentioned that most of that refers to microorganisms, and out of the sun, cold, etc. should be combined for the passive non-enzyme/acid/etc. induced breakage. (and I guess you can add radiation protection too) $\endgroup$ – Peter May 30 '16 at 15:05
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If you can "store" people for a million years and revive them, then worst case: cannibalism.

Seriously, if you can store human beings and revive them, can't you use exactly the same techniques to store meat?

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  • $\begingroup$ How is this significantly different from WhatRoughBeast's answer? $\endgroup$ – a CVn May 30 '16 at 21:10
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling Umm, because the key element in my answer was "cannibalism", which he didn't mention? $\endgroup$ – Jay May 30 '16 at 21:16
  • $\begingroup$ Certainly fair enough. (Note that I wasn't arguing against your answer, I simply felt that it could use a little bit of clarification on how it was different from the already existing answer.) $\endgroup$ – a CVn May 31 '16 at 11:26

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