Rare or well made? Private Astronaut Will Grow Steaks From Cow Cells On Planned Houston Space Mission

Astronauts strive to turn cow cells into steaks in space.

An upcoming mission organized by Houston-based Axiom Space will include technology from an Israeli company to turn cow cells into pieces of raw meat.

This first test, set to launch on March 31 when Axiom sends private astronauts to the International Space Station, will be a precursor to ready-to-grill steaks. Aleph Farms is testing processes to grow cow cells and turn them into muscle, fat and other components that make a steak juicy.

“Aleph’s overall goal is to be able to provide nutritious, tasty and sustainable food anywhere, anytime,” said Zvika Tamari, space research manager at Aleph Farms. “And pushing that to its limit is the ability to deliver nutrition in space as well.”

Aleph Farms was created from a laboratory at the Technion – the Israel Institute of Technology led by Professor Shulamit Levenberg, an expert in tissue engineering. The lab focuses on tissue culture and cell growth for human medicine, but a Ph.D. student started working on meat culture.

The company was founded in 2017 by Levenberg, food tech incubator The Kitchen, part of Israeli food and beverage company Strauss Group, and food engineer and biologist Didier Toubia, who is now the CEO. of the society.

On Earth, Aleph grows steaks to reduce the amount of land, water, and greenhouse gas emissions associated with raising cattle. Growing meat from cells in a sterile environment also does not require injecting antibiotics into food sources.

“It’s like ordinary meat”

“You don’t have to raise a whole cow just to eat a small part of it as meat,” Tamari said.

Instead, Aleph takes cells from cows and places them in a broth of nutrients and vitamins to speed up the cell’s natural growth process. The cells are not genetically modified.

Once they have grown and multiplied, Aleph signals the cells to turn into muscle, fat, and other components of a steak. On Earth, a piece of raw meat is ready after three to four weeks.

“It’s like regular meat,” Tamari said. “You cook it: you can fry it, you can season it as you wish.”

Additional nutrients can also be added to supplement a person’s diet.

A balanced diet was essential when former NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg was in space. She remembers being pressured by a flight surgeon to eat more calories or add more potassium to her diet.

Food gives astronauts variety and helps them connect with home. Even crew members who weren’t foodies on Earth realized how important it was in space, Nyberg said.


Houston is the “space city”

“Living in space is such an abnormal and surreal environment,” she said. “So to have something that brings you back to normalcy and what your normal life is like, I think is really good for morale.”

She would have loved a freshly cooked steak in space – or smelling the fresh olive oil and garlic sauteing on the stove.

The International Space Station regularly receives shipments of fresh and packaged food products. But astronauts living on Mars won’t be able to receive fresh food, and packing enough for the crew’s entire trip would require a lot of storage in already cramped quarters.

That’s why growing food will be crucial on longer missions away from home, said Nyberg, who serves on the advisory board of Aleph Farms and is a member of the Charles F. Bolden Group. This group was founded by Bolden, a former NASA administrator, and is a consortium of leaders who provide services such as consulting and public speaking.

For Aleph, the main challenge in space will be growing meat without gravity. Humans and animals have evolved under the weight of gravity, so their cells have learned to behave in gravity. Cells act differently in space. And the Aleph system will need to be versatile enough to operate in space, on the moon and on Mars, which have varying levels of gravity.

Aleph first tested its meat production technology on the International Space Station in 2019. Through a collaboration with Russian company 3D Bioprinting Solutions, Aleph Farms launched cow cells into space and then used the 3D bio-printer from the Russian company to make cells interact with each other and form muscle tissue.

The next experiment on the Axiom Space mission will go even further, proving that Aleph can grow and multiply cells in microgravity, then differentiate them into various muscle and fat components of a steak.

“The mission here is not to produce a steak,” Tamari said. “It’s about testing the two core processes.”

Aleph goes to space with Israeli impact investor Eytan Stibbe, one of three paying clients on the Axiom Space mission. The fourth crew member is former NASA astronaut and Axiom Space Vice President Michael López-Alegría, who will command the mission.

Stibbe’s personal mission, on behalf of the Ramon Foundation and in collaboration with the Israeli Space Agency, is named “Rakia” after the dome (atmosphere) created by God on the second day after the firmament, which protects life on Earth. Stibbe will facilitate science experiments and conduct educational and artistic activities during the eight-day mission.

“The ‘Rakia’ mission is a unique opportunity for Israeli entrepreneurs and researchers to advance innovative ideas,” said Inbal Kreiss, chair of the science and technology committee of Rakia Mission, in a press release. “The experiments are innovative and pioneering, drawn from a variety of disciplines – astrophysics, agriculture, optics, communication, biology, healthcare, neurology and ophthalmology – and were chosen based on their potential impact on research and their innovative approach.”

Ultimately, Aleph is working on a more robust system that would allow astronauts to grow tall and fully cook their own steaks. Aleph and American food innovation company Astreas were recently among the winners of Phase 1 of NASA’s Deep Space Food Challenge. The companies have received $25,000 and plan to participate in Phase 2, where they will develop a cooking demonstration for NASA’s Johnson Space Center that could provide fresh food for a three-year mission.

“If you have humans, you need food. And preferably it should be fresh,” Tamari said. “We are developing the technology that will allow astronauts to produce their meat locally.”

This article has been updated with a new launch date for the Axiom Space mission.

Dino S. Williams