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Healthy Choices
Investigation: How can humans remain healthy while on extended space missions?

Proper nutrition and exercise are essential for mental and physical health. Living and working in space puts high levels of stress on mind and body. Simple operations that are taken for granted on Earth require planning and close attention. The absence of gravity and a natural atmosphere adds to the stress.
Conceptual art of astronaut in greenhouse

Hydroponic growth labs such as the one in this artist's rendering may be used to grow fruits and vegetables on Mars. These crops will provide crews with added nutrition and a variety of healthy food choices. Image Credit: NASA

The International Space Station and the astronauts onboard are in a constant free fall as they orbit Earth. The effect is the same as having no gravity, a phenomenon that the human body is not accustomed to on Earth. The moon's gravitational attraction is one sixth that of Earth's. Mars' gravitational attraction is a little more than a third of Earth's. NASA scientists have been researching the effects of reduced gravity on astronauts for years.

NASA dietitians have created special recipes to make food taste good and ensure proper nutrition. Special preparation techniques have also been developed so that food may be easily stored for long periods of time and safely served in the microgravity environment in space. NASA doctors and fitness specialists are continually developing and improving exercise equipment and exercise programs to help astronauts on the space station stay fit and avoid bone and muscle loss.

For students to be able to propose a design of a habitat on the moon or Mars, they must understand what people need to stay fit and healthy in these stressful conditions. Yet many students do not know what foods and levels of activity are appropriate for themselves on Earth. Some of the activities and readings listed below in the Content Area Resources section will help students understand nutrition requirements, the Food Guide Pyramid and food labels. Other readings and activities will allow students to have fun learning about menus, recipes and food preparation techniques developed for astronauts.

Assessment Task
Students design a healthy diet and exercise plan for an extended stay on the moon or Mars and explain why it should be appropriate.
Download Formative Assessment Rubric (PDF)

Content Area Resources
The following Web resources are provided to assist you in facilitating inquiry-based learning and to address the investigative questions for this unit. Some of the resources are on NASA Web sites and others are not. Web sites that are external to www.nasa.gov are indicated with an arrow. Some items may be in PDF format. Recommended grade levels are indicated whenever they are specified in the resource.

Activities and Information to Teach Students About Proper Nutrition and Exercise
Food and Fitness (PDF) (Teacher Resource)   →
The Science of Energy Balance: Calorie Intake and Physical Activity (Teacher Resource) (7-8)  →
Space Food and Nutrition Educator Guide (Teacher Resource)  →
Presidential Fitness Challenge (Teacher Resource)  →
MyPyramid for Professionals (Teacher Resource)  →
MyPyramid (K-5/Families)  →
MyPyramid Blast Off Game (Teacher Resource) (K-4 and 5-9)  →

Space Food and Nutrition
The activities in this NASA educator guide emphasize hands-on and cooperative involvement of students as they explore the unique problems of keeping astronauts happy and healthy in space.
Space Food and Nutrition Teacher's Guide (K-8)
Space Food Fact Sheets (10-12)
Space Food (5-8)  →
Space Food: A Taste of the Future (10-12)
The Strawberry Connection (10-12)
Cornbread Dressing Recipe  →
Expedition 12 Crew menus
Food for Space Flight (10-12)  →
Healthier NASA By Choice Recipes (PDF) (5-8 and 9-12)  →
Food Technology video (Part 1: Program 16, Episode 401)  →
Food Technology video (Part 2: Program 17, Episode 402)  →