An iPad app, designed specifically for use in space, simplifies the way astronauts track their dietary intake and offers greater insight for physicians and researchers on the Earth looking to keep crews healthy and fit, NASA said.
The International Space Station Food Intake Tracker (ISS FIT) iPad app, recently delivered to the space station, gives astronauts real-time feedback about their dietary habits.
"Understanding the relationship of diet with crew health is critical for future exploration missions, where nutrition will be a key countermeasure in mitigating the negative effects of spaceflight on the body," Scott M. Smith, nutritionist at NASA, said in a statement.
"We've recently documented that astronauts can protect their bones with good nutrition and exercise," Smith said.
"This app puts the tools in their hands to track this information in real time," Smith explained.
The app does not require internet access to sync with the food database - that includes foods available on the space station, including those from international partner agencies - as many of the apps available on Earth require, NASA said.
The app reports nutrients specifically of concern for astronauts (and often terrestrial beings), ensuring adequate calorie consumption, minimising sodium intake and maintaining hydration to reduce kidney stone risk.
The app, developed through NASA's Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation, used crowdsourcing techniques hosted by TopCoder.
Designed for use on the space station, the solution had to meet strict criteria, offer multiple user options and work without internet connectivity.
The app allows crew members to record foods available on the space station. It gives astronauts options to record foods from a checklist, search tool, using audio recording, taking photos or scanning barcodes, if available.
The app provides real-time information on key nutrients including calories, sodium and fluid, allowing crew members to see at lunch that they need to consume more water later in the day, for example.
The app replaces a weekly computer questionnaire, which provided an estimate of dietary intake over the week.
The detailed data not only helps crews in real time each day, but also will allow for more detailed assessments of dietary intake during flight and relating these to other crew health concerns like bone loss and vision changes, NASA said.