Chuck Robinson, Media Watch
Chuck Robinson, Media Watch

They were talking about a marinated tomato salad during a story about NASA’s goal of a mission to Mars in the 2030s on National Public Radio in late July, and already on my drive into work in the morning I was thinking about lunch.

So many other thoughts roiled in my brain too.

That moment brought together for me childhood memories of the Apollo program, futuristic Isaac Asimov ideas of space pioneering and tidbits of information from present day produce growing.

The NPR story was about general plans for NASA to combine packaged food with growing crops hydroponically to sustain astronauts on a four- or five-year mission to Mars.

The flush of thoughts I had included remembrances of descriptions and images of Apollo astronauts sucking tubes of turkey and gravy during the holidays.

Checking online tells me that may have been the Apollo 8 mission in 1968.

Tang, that orange dring mix, sure rode the Apollo missions to stellar marketing heights.

In early space flights, astronauts ingested nutrients instead of eating.

The NPR story also reminded me of artist renderings in Popular Mechanics of colonies on Mars.

It was fun to look at the pictures and imagine what life might be like there.

One thing that struck me in the NPR article, in which host Audie Cornish talked with Maya Cooper, research scientist at NASA supplier Lockeed Martin, was the need to send “comfort food” on the mission.

“We were very conscious to choose foods that we would consider comfort foods at home,” Cooper said.

That includes garlic mashed potatoes and french fries as well as tomato salad.

Produce plays a big part in the plans — that was the impression I got from the radio article. I also imagined astronauts eating something more like food and not just tubes of nutrients.

To boldly grow

Of course, the produce industry has many companies leading the way in hydroponics.

Canada’s HydroSerre Mirabel has grown lettuce hydroponically for a dozen years.

Leamington, Ontario-based Nature Fresh Farms Inc. has some highly automated hydroponic facilities, according to what Jay Colasanti, salesman and marketer, told The Packer in March.

Jem-D International, Leamington, also has quite a hydroponic operation.

In June, we ran an article by Retail Editor Pamela Riemenschneider about retailers growing hydroponic crops on the roofs of their businesses — a McCaffrey’s Market in Langhorne, Pa., built by New York-based Bright Farms and a Rouse’s in downtown New Orleans.

It’s as local as you can get but has a space age vibe to it too.

I hope they get caught up in the excitement of going to Mars.

A potential mission to Mars evokes a muddle of good feelings. More than the earlier space missions, I hope fresh fruits and vegetables get a starring role, thanks to hydroponics and the time it will take to visit our galactic neighbor.

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