What do astronauts eat during their space flights? That’s the question most people would ask NASA pilots, only after the question how do they go to the toilet?
In fact, there is a field called space food where nutrition scientists will work with chefs and manufacturers of packaged foods. Their goal is to design products specifically for astronauts.
The requirement of space foods is that they must provide balanced nutrition for people working in space, and can be easily stored, processed and consumed in a zero-gravity environment, surrounded by machinery on the spaceship.
Most food in space is freeze-dried to ensure a long and safe shelf life. But over the past 60 years, the field has made remarkable progress. Space food has become more and more delicious and diverse.
Let’s take a look at the evolution of space meals in the article below.
1962: John Glenn becomes the first American to dine in space. He had sucked apple sauce from a tube like a tube of plastic glue.
We know the first person to fly into space and have the first self-catering meal aboard was Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin. He flew around the Earth aboard Vostok 1 in April 1961.
During the short flight of 1 hour 48 minutes, Gagarin was able to enjoy a snack, which is ground beef and liver pressed from a tube like a toothpaste tube. Although the meal was not very good, Vostok 1 had a window that allowed Gagarin to see Earth and it was a great setting for a romantic dinner.
The first American in space was astronaut Alan B. Shepard. He took off aboard Freedom 7 on May 5, 1961. However, unlike his Soviet counterpart, Shepard was not allowed to eat and had to go without food during his flight.
It wasn’t until February 1962 that John Glenn aboard Friendship 7 became the first American to dine in space. He also ate apple sauce, beef, and vegetable purees squeezed out of a tube that looked like a tube of plastic glue.
It was the standard space food packaging technology of the early 1960s.
1965: NASA created dry food and vacuum in plastic bags.
This is around the time that NASA plans for Gemini manned and multi-day spaceflight flights. To prepare for that launch, NASA began to improve the food for the astronauts.
They built a system to dehydrate food and turn everything into a form of dry food. Food is vacuum sealed into plastic bags. Each bag is labeled. When astronauts want to eat, they will have to pump water into the bag to rehydrate their dishes.
Food prepared for the astronauts on the Gemini mission included scrambled eggs, shrimp cocktail sauce, curry chicken and raisin rice cakes. Beverages include coffee, grape juice and milk.
Because astronauts in weightlessness use less muscle than humans on Earth, they are designed meals with fewer calories. On average, their meal consisted of 17% protein, 32% fat, and 51% carbohydrates.
1966: The astronauts’ snack was sugar cookies covered with jelly.
To satisfy their cravings for sweets and snacks, the Gemini astronauts were given sugar cookies. They were molded into squares and the astronauts were asked to pop a piece in their mouths in a single pass.
Each block of cake has been covered with jelly outside to avoid crumbling. Astronauts must not bite the cake in half because crumbs can fly around in the craft, clogging electrical systems and air filters.
The jelly coating also helps the food not to spoil and retain the flavor. Even so, the astronauts still found these cakes quite bland. The texture of the jelly is soft on the outside, and the cake is hard on the inside, which also feels quite odd.
1969: The Apollo 11 astronauts ate packaged beef and vegetables.
The Apollo astronauts were the first to have hot food and meals scooped with a spoon in space. While aboard Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin ate beef and vegetables, pork with fries, Canadian bacon and apple sauce – all wrapped in plastic bags.
Meals are color-coded, individually wrapped and labeled for each day. If something goes wrong, such as a loss of pressure in the cabin, astronauts will have a few backup food packs placed right in their helmets. This allows the lunar astronauts to eat without having to take off their clothes.
1971: Apricot candy bars on the surface of the Moon.
Apollo 15 was the fourth US Apollo mission to land on the surface of the Moon. While the astronauts worked long hours collecting rocks and dust, they had snacks during their breaks. NASA served apricot candy bars as snacks on board. This diet was also maintained until the Apollo 17 mission.
Apollo 15 also introduced new foods such as beef steaks and burgers that were conditioned or preserved by heat. Food packets are packaged with a sulfate tablet to prevent them from spoiling.
1972: US astronauts are almost allowed to drink wine in space.
In 1972, the astronaut food menu was still a bit bleak, so NASA briefly toyed with the idea of including alcohol on its astronaut menu.
The plan was carefully prepared, NASA recruited a “space winemaker”, who have both the wine expertise and the scientific knowledge to determine sherry is the best choice. This is because this type of wine will withstand temperature changes.
But almost immediately after the idea appeared, it was met with public outcry. Many astronauts also seem indifferent to the idea of enjoying alcohol in space.
However, bags of sherry for astronauts are still produced by NASA. Some astronauts have actually been drinking them during training missions on the ground.
1973: The first ice cream in space.
Visit the science museum and you’ll see that they display a freeze-dried astronaut ice cream. It’s called ice cream, but it’s actually just a mixture of fake cream, not cold and can crumble like a cake.
That’s because the early spacecraft and space stations didn’t have refrigerators to store ice cream. Things only changed after NASA’s 1973 Skylab mission, when astronauts were finally equipped with refrigerators so they could keep samples or ice cream as usual.
1983: A meal on the NASA space shuttle.
NASA’s Space Shuttle program sent crews into space for three decades, from 1981 to 2011. During the 9th Space Shuttle mission in 1983, astronauts were served trays Served with paella, meatballs, barbecue sauce, Italian beans and thermostable chocolate pudding.
Starting around 1985, astronauts were equipped with a fresh food cabinet, often used to store fruits and vegetables such as apples, bananas, carrots and celery. They also have seasonings like salt and pepper to add to meals in the space.
2005: The “space noodle” is introduced in Japan.
Japanese food company Nissin released its first instant ramen in 1958. Decades later, they customized the recipe to create a similar product for astronauts, called it. “Space Ram“.
In 2005, Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi brought this instant noodle into space for the first time.
2006: NASA invited famous chef Emeril Lagasse to work.
For the first time during the 2006 space shuttle mission, NASA astronauts were given the option of choosing their own food instead of having to eat standard meals. NASA even invited celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse to research some recipes for astronauts.
They ended up choosing 5 Lagasse dishes to send into the space including Mardi Gras jambalaya, mashed potatoes with bacon, chickpeas with garlic, rice cakes and mixed fruit.
In a press release, astronaut Jeff Williams said he liked the spicy taste of Lagasse-designed jambalaya, because “In space, an astronaut’s sense of smell would be slightly impaired.”
2011: The astronaut’s menu is expanded to more than 200 dishes.
In November 2000, the International Space Station (ISS) officially welcomed the first permanent residents. Initially, NASA thought it could continue to maintain the astronaut buffet menus like in the space shuttle program.
But the problem is that the supply shipments sent from Earth to the ISS are often irregular. Therefore, sometimes astronauts have to wait a long time for their menus to come.
To overcome this problem, NASA has expanded its menu to more than 200 types of food and drink, allowing astronauts to choose their own meals.
2015: NASA funded research to create food from astronauts’ feces.
A trip to Mars will take longer than a typical stay on the International Space Station. To prepare for this scenario, NASA considered an idea: Could astronauts sustain themselves by eating their own feces?
In 2005, the foundation pledged $200,000 a year in grants to chemists and bioengineers at Clemson University to study how to recycle human waste into space food.
2019: Astronauts can finally grow their own food in space.
NASA plans to build a space station orbiting the moon called Gateway. The prototype of this station is designed with a “space garden“, where astronauts can grow and harvest vegetables such as strawberries, carrots, potatoes…
The garden replaces sunlight with purple LEDs, and water is used sparingly. Testing this model below ground, the astronauts were able to harvest a bunch of lettuce in 24 days.
In 2005, astronauts on the International Space Station also demonstrated they could grow romaine lettuce in space. Growing fresh food in space will allow astronauts to dramatically improve their diets.
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