Space food. How has it changed over time?28th Nov 2022
Over 60 years of space exploration, the duration of manned flights has grown from a few minutes to several months. Planning a long stay of an astronaut in space required to provide him not only with oxygen and water but also with good nutrition. In this case, it was necessary to take into account low gravity and a number of other features of the spacecraft environment. Scientists have successfully coped with these challenges and today space food is not much different from what we eat on Earth. Let’s find out what astronauts eat.
The nutrition specifics of life in space
Several factors complicate nutrition on a spacecraft. They include limited space for storing food, lack of proper conditions for cooking, and low gravity, in which the human body and the substances that enter it behave differently than on Earth. This means that supplies should be easy to eat, the packaging should be easy to open, and products should not leave a lot of waste.
The physical activity of astronauts during the flight is reduced, but the body’s need for a balanced intake of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates remains almost the same. That is why nutritious, easily digestible foods are taken on board. What does space food look like? It’s an important factor, as is how delicious it is. These conditions affect the morale and sometimes the general mental health of an astronaut.
In low gravity conditions, foods familiar to us cannot be eaten. Crumbs, spices, salt, and seasonings can harm astronauts by getting into their eyes and noses, as well as clogging instruments and ventilation. The soda loved by many causes belching and vomiting, so the range food and drinks in space should be restricted. Besides, our taste buds react differently in space, which can make ordinary food seem bland and tasteless.
Astronauts on board a spacecraft can eat meat products, vegetables, fruits, herbs, bakery, and sweets if they are prepared with long-term storage in mind and the foods can be easily removed from their packages. Most importantly, food in space should be healthy, have a pronounced taste, and provide the astronaut with vitamins and other elements useful for our bodies.
Each astronaut is provided with three full meals a day, amounting to 2500 kcal per day, with a balanced amount of necessary biological elements. The total amount of food is calculated depending on the number of crewmembers and mission duration. For example, on the ISS, where the watch lasts about six months, NASA replenishes space food with resupply missions. And in short missions, the entire food supply is brought from Earth in one go.
On the eve of the flight, astronauts can eat any food. It’s wise to enjoy one’s favourite dishes Earthside because after the launch, there will be no opportunities for a long time. However, before the flight, the astronaut’s breakfast should contain nutritious yet easily digestible foods that result in a minimum of waste.
At first, astronaut nutrition was very poor and monotonous, but as the technology developed and the duration of manned flights increased, the space food menu expanded and was overhauled with new products and dishes.
It was pureed meat and chocolate sauce packaged in toothpaste-like tubes. Food in tubes was prepared for Yuri Gagarin, the first man to fly into space. Gagarin was in flight for only 108 minutes, so there was no real need for food. But it was important to conduct an eating experiment in a state of weightlessness to test the package convenience and the consistency of food for subsequent missions.
On the following flights, the astronauts still went on missions with tubed food but with different dishes: liver pate, beef, meatballs, vegetable puree soups, fruit juices, and puddings. A little later, real space food took the form of freeze-dried powders and one-bite cubes with a gelatin coating that reduces the possibility of crumbs forming. The astronauts were able to eat toast, vegetables, and shrimp. During the Apollo missions, hot water became available for diluting powdered food, and the invention of a special spoon and a cup made the eating process more comfortable.
In 1973, space station Skylab was equipped with a small refrigerator, allowing astronauts to take fresh bread, frozen foods and even ice cream on board; and a little later, the first food grown in space became available. At the time, it included greens, cucumbers, and tomatoes. In 1978-1988, during the international space program Interkosmos, astronauts ate dishes developed by the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. It was dried space food, sarma, lutenitsa, tarator and other Bulgarian national dishes.
The present space food menu
With advances in food processing and packaging technology, astronauts’ diets have become more diverse and Earth-like. This is what a space food list looks like now:
- Beverages. Coffee, tea, and gas-free fruit drinks in special vacuum bags.
- Fresh Foods. Flatbreads, fresh vegetables and fruit are designed to be consumed within two days and, therefore, delivered by supply missions.
- Meat. All meat products are exposed to ionizing radiation for long-term storage.
- Thermostabilized space food – products treated with high temperatures to kill spoilage microorganisms.
- Intermediate meat products that can last for a long time, for example, smoked meat, and sausage.
- Natural form. Ready-to-eat products that can be stored for a long time — cookies, muesli, nuts.
- Freeze-dried space food – products dehydrated in various ways, more often dried. Before eating, they must be diluted in hot water.
- Baked goods with a long shelf life.
Plants in space for human consumption have been grown for some time now, so recipes can include fresh herbs, vegetables, fruit, and grains. This means that vegan astronauts do not starve during the flight. In the future, NASA also plans to create greenhouses on the Moon and in Martian colonies. These would essentially be similar to those in The Martian space movie, where Matt Damon’s character grew potatoes. This will solve the problem of food supplies from Earth and free up volume for more important cargo, for example, materials that are hard or impossible to obtain on the spot — building materials, fuel, etc.
Food on the International Space Station
The International Space Station is humanity’s main outpost in space, so the approach to its catering is very thorough.
This is what the list of space food available to astronauts on the ISS looks like today:
- fresh vegetables and fruits;
- smoked beef;
- canned food;
- dried foods;
- pickled vegetables;
- herbal teas;
It is also possible to create individual menus based on national cuisines and a particular astronaut’s needs. For example, Tim Peake’s space dish, a bacon sarni from acclaimed Michelin-starred chef Heston Blumenthal, has become a new breakthrough in astronaut cooking because eating bread in zero gravity is somewhat challenging.
The shrimp cocktail is still considered one of the astronauts’ favourite foods in space. It includes shrimp, olives, mayonnaise and other nutritious foods. In 1995, ISS astronaut Bill Gregory ate this dish 48 times in a row!
In second place are sour-milk products, which became available with the advent of refrigerators on board spaceships. Milk is rich in calcium, which helps astronauts cope with the bone loss they experience from prolonged exposure to microgravity. American astronauts love blueberry-raspberry, peach and strawberry yoghurts. Others prefer cheese, especially with garlic and herbs, as well as cottage cheese with raisins and nuts.
Tortillas rank third. Bread tortillas do not crumble and can be stored for up to 18 months. They are very tasty with peanut butter and can also serve as a great pizza base.
The ISS has a section for cooking and eating, equipped with modules for heating canned food, a machine for making coffee, broth, tea, and a system for hydrating freeze-dried products.
The station also has a laboratory for growing plants. Astronauts conduct scientific observations when growing various vegetables, salads, herbs and also eat them, which replenishes their vitamin supply and raises their spirits.
How is food handled on Tiangong?
The Chinese space station also has a separate kitchen for cooking and eating. It has a kitchen table and the world’s first space microwave oven so that astronauts can heat their food faster and more easily. This way, hot food is always included in their diet.
Storing food in space
Food storage on a spacecraft depends on what the food is made of. Canned food is stored in jars, pasty dishes — in tubes, dried foods — in packages. Refrigerators and freezers are provided for fresh vegetables, fruits and other products.
Space food NASA is of interest to many people who want not only to see these unique products and dishes in photos and videos but also to taste them.
Food for space expeditions is developed by different space food companies, competing with each other in menu variety, the use of processing technologies, and package versatility. Most of them sell their products to a mass audience online. Simply enter a search term such as where to buy space food, select a store like Shop Nasa, and order whatever you’d like to try.
Nutrition is the basis of human life, so it must be adapted to the environments where we spend a lot of time. Humanity is not going to stop with space exploration and colonization of other planets. This means that space food production tech will keep developing, surprising us and our taste buds with new menu achievements. Bon appétit, spacemen!