NASA Will Pay You $1 Million to Find Out How to Feed Astronauts on Mars and Beyond

If you have an idea that could feed astronauts once they reach Mars, NASA might owe you a healthy sum. This week, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration updated the public on its Deep Space Challenge, a million-dollar challenge looking for ideas from inventors and innovators alike as to how the outfit can sustainably feed astronauts on deep-space missions.

The contest is simple enough. You and your team must design, build, and demonstrate a successful prototype of "food production technologies" that could be replicated on other cosmic bodies.

"Feeding astronauts over long periods within the constraints of space travel will require innovative solutions," said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate. "Pushing the boundaries of food technology will keep future explorers healthy and could even help feed people here at home."

The challenge itself launched last October with 18 teams competing for the prize. While those teams split $450,000 last time, the stakes are higher this time around. Not only that, but those 18 teams plus potential new partners can enter in the second phase—the one where the prototypes are actually built to produce food.

"We are excited to continue collaborating with the Canadian Space Agency to conduct the next phase of this challenge and identify solutions from across the globe," Reuter added.

The 18 teams that participated in Phase One automatically meet the registration requirements to enter Phase Two. For those interested in participating, you have to supply the necessary registration information by the end of February. You can find more details on how to register, and the requirements, on the challenge's site here.

"Over time, food loses its nutritional value. That means for a multi-year mission to Mars, bringing along pre-packaged food will not meet all the needs for maintaining astronaut health," NASA's description of the challenge reads. "Additionally, food insecurity is a significant, chronic problem on Earth in both urban and rural communities. Disasters that disrupt supply chains further aggravate food shortages. Developing compact and innovative advanced food system solutions through initiatives such as the Deep Space Food Challenge could have applications in home and community-based local food production, providing new solutions for humanitarian responses to floods and droughts, and new technologies for rapid deployment following disasters."