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UF/IFAS CALS PhD Student Enters the Space (Bread) Race

GAINESVILLE, FL – Hope Hersh, a PhD student in the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences’ (CALS) Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology program has entered a different type of space race.  In this instance, it is her entry to the Deep Space Food Challenge.  This joint effort, between NASA and the Canadian Space Agency, is looking for innovative food technology ideas to be taken into space for deep space missions.

The challenge? To come up with ideas that could feed a crew of deep space astronauts of four for up to three years. These ideas would bring them fresh new foods in space. Hope and her team has posed the idea of making fresh bread in space. Previous to now, bread in space has been off limits because when eating or breaking bread, it produces lots of crumbs which could prove dangerous for spaceflight, as it could get into instrumentation.

“So we have come up with an innovative food technology that stores the ingredients that we can make the bread dough in, and bake the bread dough in, without the ingredients ever having to leave the bag. The bags are made of fluorinated ethylene propylene, or EFP plastic, so it can operate anywhere from minus two hundred degrees Celsius to plus two hundred degrees Celsius.” – Hope Hersh

The bag will not break down in any way which means the bag cannot contaminate the food or get any sort of chemical particulates into the food, as this would be bad for the astronauts.

Pumpkin Bread

Pumpkin Bread made with EFP Process

Hope has applied and her idea was accepted into the Challenge competition, which involved submitting a lot of paperwork and also including a video for the design of her idea. She was fortunate enough to work with the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences video team who helped produce a video on what the set up, the cooking and the breakdown of her innovative entry.

In mid-October 2021, Hope learned her entry was accepted into Phase One where she will receive a $25,000 prize to help further develop her idea.

“We hope that ultimately our bread can just help the crew members on these deep space missions achieve their goals. And also, I would like to work for NASA, so I’m hoping that maybe this would get my foot in the door and I’d get introduced to people at NASA.” – Hope Hersh

Video Producer: Rebecca Clapp
Videography: Robert Annis
Additional footage: NASA
Photographs: Hope Hersh