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NASA will try not to depress astronauts with space-food bars

Crew morale is just as important as flavor and nutrition when it comes to replacing meals with food bars on space missions like Orion.

This NASA food bar looks pretty good.

Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

I enjoy the occasional healthy breakfast or granola bar, a small snack stuffed with decent nutrition. I'm just not sure I could face one every single day on a lengthy space mission. NASA is developing custom food bars for its future Orion spacecraft missions to fuel astronauts on long voyages away from Earth.

"There's no commercially-available bar right now that meets our needs, so we've had to go design something that...works for the crew, while trying to achieve a multi-year shelf-life," said NASA food scientist Takiyah Sirmons.

NASA has its sights set on a 10- to 14-day Orion mission around the moon with four crew members. That means every single meal would need to be packed on board. NASA food scientists are developing the meal-replacement bars to save bulk. Each one crams over 700 calories into a compact bar.

Test flavors include banana-nut, orange-cranberry, ginger-vanilla and barbecue-nut. This sounds delicious, but NASA is aware that food bars may not be the most exciting edibles. "Scientists also have to consider how the bars will affect crew morale, since food choice, variety and taste are important aspects of ensuring they consume enough, especially as mission lengths increase," NASA notes.

Not only is NASA working on the nutritional density of the bars, but also on whether or not they'll make the crew happy. NASA is currently studying whether people even like the bars, if they can be an every-day meal or if they need to be just an occasional substitute.

Food bars aren't likely to supplant the tried-and-tested rehydratable foods (like this Thanksgiving meal) currently in use on the International Space Station, but they could become a staple of astronauts' diets as we venture farther and farther away from our home planet.