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Adv Nutr. 2013 Sep 1;4(5):521-3. doi: 10.3945/an.113.004101.

The role of nutritional research in the success of human space flight.

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Human Health and Performance Directorate, NASA Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX.


The United States has had human space flight programs for >50 y and has had a continued presence in space since 2000. Providing nutritious and safe food is imperative for astronauts because space travelers are totally dependent on launched food. Space flight research topics have included energy, protein, nutritional aspects of bone and muscle health, and vision issues related to 1-carbon metabolism. Research has shown that energy needs during flight are similar to energy needs on Earth. Low energy intakes affect protein turnover. The type of dietary protein is also important for bone health, plant-based protein being more efficacious than animal protein. Bone loss is greatly ameliorated with adequate intakes of energy and vitamin D, along with routine resistive exercise. Astronauts with lower plasma folate concentrations may be more susceptible to vision changes. Foods for space flight were developed initially by the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine in conjunction with the U.S. Army Natick Laboratories and NASA. Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point safety standards were specifically developed for space feeding. Prepackaged foods for the International Space Station were originally high in sodium (5300 mg/d), but NASA has recently reformulated >90 foods to reduce sodium intake to 3000 mg/d. Food development has improved nutritional quality as well as safety and acceptability.

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