Swedish food company Arla has been working with scientists at the US Space Agency, NASA, over the last 18 months to look at ways of improving the nutritional properties of food eaten by astronauts during space missions.
The first fruits of that partnership are about to be launched, and include both yoghurt and chocolate bars which have wider potential uses than simply keeping spacemen well-nourished.
Carsten Hallund Slot, project manager in charge of Arla Foods' partnership with NASA Food Technology Commercial Space Center in the US, said that the new products included four types of fresh yoghurt, a powder-based yoghurt and powder-based milk drinks in three flavours, but that the 'space chocolate' was the most exciting product.
"The product is not only designed for astronauts, it can also be used by sportsmen and women or, for instance, during expeditions to the Arctic," he said.
"The greatest challenge for us was to develop milk with a long shelf-life. Having examined several options, the solution turned out to be a [chocolate-covered] protein bar with the equivalent nutritional value as a glass of full-fat milk.".The product contains proteins from Arla Foods Ingredients and has been developed in collaboration with the Danish chocolate manufacturer, Toms.
Initially, the protein bar was the size of a Mars bar, but this posed problems. "When you bit into it, there were crumbs - which aren't desirable in a weightless environment. Therefore, we've divided the chocolate bar up into seven small pieces," said Hallund Slot.
"One problem with this solution, however, is that the pieces are liable to melt into each other if the pack comes into contact with heat from the space ship's computers or other technical equipment. To avoid this, the chocolate bar has been dipped in a sugar mix which gives it a hard surface."
He continued: "Toms asked what colour we wanted the pieces to be and we chose green to match the Arla Foods' logo. And we all know that creatures from Mars are green…."
The chocolate bar - and other products - will be despatched to NASA in early April.