By Anissa Alifandi,  Festival Communications Intern at the British Science Association


A few weeks ago, astronauts on board the International Space Station enjoyed a taste of something special – romaine lettuce. After trying some of that gimmicky dehydrated ice cream they supposedly give their employees, I reckon it’s about time astronauts were given something palatable. I say “given” when actually these scientists were responsible for managing this meagre harvest and, for the first time, were permitted to eat some of their fares.

This marks a great step for man’s conquest of space as it makes longer-term voyages with less interaction with the earth, more feasible. If astronauts are able to grow their own food and sustain themselves for an extended period of time, they can travel for longer. With weight restrictions being a key consideration in the construction of a spacecraft, weight saved in the way of human-fuel can be transferred to allowances for rocket fuel.

According to the Mars One website the plan was always to be growing fresh produce, with rations from Earth stored for emergencies. This news will therefore be well received by the teams involved.

The past year or so has seen space dominating science in the media. From the recent images arriving from the Pluto New Horizons mission to Philae successfully landing on Comet 67P, the most sophisticated technology is sent hurtling into the cosmos. It’s 46 years since the moon landing, so how long until the most sophisticated of them all – a human – makes the next breakthrough by landing on another world?

Matt Taylor, from the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission, will be at the British Science Festival this year with an update on Philae’s progress. Festival-goers will be able to ask Taylor about the ups and downs of the project, quite literally for the Rosetta mission, with the probe encountering more craters than the scientists had catered for.

We may triumph in dealing with these “glitches” whilst controlling a multimillion dollar machine, but replace Philae with a “Phil” and we are much less confident in our abilities to rescue the mission, let alone the poor guy out there. And I don’t think the public are all too reassured either thanks to Matt Damon. Spacecraft may need round-the-clock care but humans are even more demanding. The stakes are much higher in the operations required to support the physical and mental health of a real person. So although food production is a step in the right direction, this is only one more criterion ticked off on long list of sustaining human life on another world.

Another issue that will be discussed at the British Science Festival is the ownership of space. Editor of the journal Space Policy, Jill Stuart will explore the politics of space, explaining our existing laws, where they’ve come from and how politics on Earth affects what happens in the cosmos. 

Travel into outer space at the British Science Festival, book your FREE tickets!