|Space Food In A NutshellZ|
|Mercury | Gemini | Apollo | SkyLab | Shuttle | ISS | Mars|
John Glenn shows President Clinton the finer points of Space Shuttle Cuisine
|1962 – 1964: Can We Eat in Space?|
|One of the
goals of Project Mercury was to find out: Can humans swallow food in weightlessness?
quaintly amusing now, but there was a time when we simply didn't know anything
about how the body would function in space! While John Glenn was in orbit, he was given aluminum tubes of beef stew and applesauce he
didn't find terribly appetizing (basically baby food purees), but of course was the first to report that he had no problems ingesting food.
Mercury foods resembled military rations: processed, compressed and packaged to have maximized nutrition, but take up minimal space. The bland meats and breads were difficult to prepare, however, and tended to crumble or splash about the capsules. Believe me when I say you don't want details on the liquefied tuna.
Every single astronaut returned home with un-eaten
food, having either evaded or downright lied to their Mission Control CapComs about eating.
Gordon Cooper, the first astronaut to try freeze-dried food in space in 1963, disliked it so much that he only consumed 696 of his 2,369 calories worth of food on board.
|1965 – 1967: Moving Beyond Snack Fare|
By the start of Project Gemini, squeeze tubes were already gone. Concentrates were covered with gelatin so they didn’t crumble. Any particles of food which float away must be collected to prevent it clogging up
air filters and other equipment! Freeze-dried foods were put in plastic containers that made re-hydrating easier. However, difficulties in expectations versus realities made themselves known on the first long flights.
Gemini-7, a two-week affair, offered the first complex menu of shrimp, chicken, mixed vegetables and
"toast cubes." All bright ideas, but "reconstitution" with limited water was tougher than anticipated. Mission planners initially allocated 15-minute meal-times, but
"cooking" and consumption took nearly an hour; the frustrated flyers (Borman, Lovell) ate only about 1000 calories per day in the second week because they wearied of the
complex preparation processes that resulted in bland, unsatisfying
|Project Gemini||Project Apollo|
|1968: Astronauts On Strike|
The first three Apollo Program missions enjoyed something their predecessors
hadn't: HOT water for reconstituting dried foods, as provided by
enhanced fuel cell systems. Even then, fierce complaints about the flavorless fare finally led
NASA's Chief Food Tester to agree to live on Apollo food for four days. After only one day, he had lost his appetite, and in the middle of day three, he stopped the experiment. The point had been made.
Among his notes were the following writings:
Without pleasing aromas to stimulate the appetite and textural variety to provide satisfaction, the astronauts lose their desire to eat.
|1969: Now We're Getting The Hang Of This|
By Apollo 9 and 10, a small "pantry" had been added to the capsule and
"thermo-stabilized wetpacks" were developed to improve texture, whereby specially-treated foods in
zip-lock bags could be
"watered" by a valve in one end, and openings at the other end provided
spoon access. A step forward!
Fresh foods such as
fruits and soft breads also made their appearance in this era, and by Apollo 12 they were experimenting with freeze-dried scrambled eggs and protein bars inside their space suits.
|1973: Long Duration|
The next big challenge would take place on the Skylab Space Station, where astronauts might be in low earth orbit for
60 days at a time. Nutritionists were now fully aware that traveling foodstuffs needed to smell good, taste good, feel good in the mouth –- just like on Earth
-– for the sake of basic human well-being.
It's not enough to count calories and add vitamins, then assume humans will eat whatever is set in front of them, even in a hostile, foreign environment. When not naturally stirred by olfactory and flavorsome stimulus, the body can actually resign itself to avoiding food entirely… leading to various physiological and psychological problems.
Five categories of food were tested for greater longevity on Skylab:
|1982: Space Shuttle Transport|
|Irradiated foods joined the major categories of consumables, primarily to make meats safer, as they had to be stored at lower-than-refrigerated temperatures.
NASA nutritionists attempted to design one comprehensive menu
for the Shuttle program to please everyone, but we all know that never happens! Menu evolution tended to follow astronaut tastes, and
"Food Files" began to be routinely compiled for each astronaut, with all preferences being checked by food scientists to ensure they contained balanced nutrients.
Astronauts rarely complain if there are certain foods they dislike, but if at the end of a mission, food items come back that no one chose to eat, those are rarely sent up a second time.
|1998: Modern Food on the ISS|
|Today, most consumables on the
International Space Station (as was also true for the Mir
Station) are canned, frozen or wrapped in sealed packs. There are Russian and American food-warmers, and a refrigerator. Since space station designs did not call for fuel cells as capsules once had, new on-board water systems were required, and underwent their own evolutions to the modern day, where both hot and cold
"taps" are available.
Today's astronauts have a greater say in what food is flown, based on personal preferences and the information learned by astronauts before them –- such as, bananas are a great idea, but smelly fish dishes are definitely not. Tortillas crumble less than bread and don't bother with potato chips or crackers, unless they are bite-sized, due to the floating debris factor.
SPICY foods tend to be favorites. In micro-gravity, astronauts experience congestion, because there is no force pulling bodily fluids into their legs and feet. Everything pools in the head! Even after initial adaptation to weightlessness, this has the effect of making food taste bland. Smells do not travel well in space, and the lack of this complementary sensation also dulls the taste buds. Thus, richly flavorful items like shrimp with tangy sauce, or jambalaya with garlic beans (special recipes developed by Emeril Lagasse!) are preferred the longer astronauts are in orbit.
|Onward To Mars|
designed to fulfill the nutritional requirements of crews in terms of
days, weeks or months at a time on the ISS. Of course, the Space Station
is quite close to Earth, and re-supply vehicles are comparatively easier
to come by than they would be on a mission to Mars, which might last 2-3
The new goal will be to create foodstuffs that last far longer than the 12-24 month shelf-life they have now -- but can they still make them light, edible, transportable, safe and nutritious? And imagine having to plan and store thousands of said meals (3 per day x 6 crew members = 6570 per year), where each must prepared with rudimentary cooking equipment in a galley smaller than the front seat of your car, millions of miles from Earth. Quite a tall order.
NASA hydroponics researchers have also identified crops for possible growth in transit on long missions: lettuce, spinach, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, onions, radishes, peppers, strawberries, various herbs. From my reading, Other space programs are testing rice, potatoes, and various types of beans.
NASA Food Technology managers are also considering sending separate robotic crafts stocked with food and water, which will rendezvous with human visitors to Mars!
Astronaut James Voss enjoys some fresh fruit on the ISS
Lachance, Paul, NASA's Astronaut Feeding Program, Rutgers University Press, New Jersey,
Lattimer, Richard, All We Did Was Fly To The Moon, Whispering Eagle Press, Gainesville, FL, © 1975.
Owen, Sharon, The History of Food in Space, American Outdoor Products, Boulder, CO, © 1988.
NASA White Papers: Biomedical Results of Apollo Food Technology (1960 - 1974)
NASA Press Kits: Space Food Facts Sheets (2002 – 2005)
NASA Press Kits: Space Food Photograph Gallery (2007)
NASA Mission Journals: Sandy Magnus, Expedition 18 (2009)