Surprisingly, just getting to space wasn’t the only challenge that scientists had to face. Once we have sent out astronauts into the space on exploration missions, we also need to tackle the issue of their everyday needs. Out of these, the most important one is the food for them onboard. How do you eat in a shuttle where you have no gravity?
Welcome to NASA’s Advanced Food Technology Project! Their goal is to ensure a safe, nutritious and somewhat acceptable food system for the crew while also making sure that vehicle mass, waster, volume and food preparations are balanced for the exploration missions. Over the past half century, these food preparations have evolved and we shall be taking a peek into this half century to see what has been going on. So ready for a history lesson? Let’s go then.
The first American man to enjoy food out of Earth’s gravity was John Glenn; however the first human to eat out of Earth was Yuri Gagarin. Yuri ate 3 toothpaste tubes (160 g each) servings of chocolate sauce and puréed meat for lunch. Although the task of eating was easy as per Glenn, he didn’t like the fact that his menu was limited.
A lot of Mercury astronauts also had to go through the process of eating bite-sized cubes, then there were dried frozen powders and semi-liquids which were placed in aluminum tubes. Trouble with these was that the crew found them unappetizing. Most had problem in rehydrating the freeze-dried foods and some didn’t like to squeeze tubes before they could eat. Instruments were in jeopardy too since the freeze-dried foods resulted in crumbs.
Gemini missions catered for the issues that were pointed out during the Mercury missions. Squeeze tubes were abandoned and the cubes were coated with gelatin to minimize the crumbling. Freeze-dried foods were placed in plastic containers that had been specially manufactured to make their ‘Re-assembling’ easier. The superior packaging resulted in enhanced food quality (obvious). Gemini mission astronauts had food choices which included; shrimp cocktail, chicken and vegetables, butterscotch puddings and apple sauce. The astronauts also had the liberty of choosing their meal combinations.
Apollo program enjoyed much more improved food system. They were provided with hot water as well which resulted in easier rehydrating and improved food taste. Also, these astronauts were the first ones to eat with a spoon from a bowl.
Skylab space station allowed even for a refrigerator and freezer as well. This allowed for storage of many food items. Much to our surprise, they even had dining room and table made available as well. Shuttle astronauts as of now, have a surprisingly large menu to select from and they can even have their personal choices incorporated into the menu.
A fun fact; Astronaut Sandra Magnus cooks meals for her team and herself at the International Space Station.