Have you ever wondered exactly what astronauts eat in space? Besides Astronaut Ice Cream that is. You might be surprised to find out that an astronaut’s diet is strikingly similar to the diets of the rest of us earthlings. Of course, there are some key differences.
Astronauts these days are spending most of their time aboard the International Space Station which is orbiting Earth. Before departure, crew member plans their three balanced meals a day, plus snacks! They have over 100 items on the menu to chose from. The food is a mixture of low moisture, freeze dried, pre-cooked or canned foods. Since there is no refrigerator in space, the food must be shelf stable. Once a month, an automated spacecraft arrives with fresh fruit, water, and meals. Additionally, each astronaut is prepared with an extra three weeks’ worth of food beyond their mission time, just in case.
In order for the astronauts to complete their missions and conduct their research while on board the space station, they need to ingest about 2,000 calories a day. They consult with nutritionists on the ground to ensure that they are getting all essential nutrients from their meals in order to keep them happy and healthy while completing their missions. These meals are organized and stored in special locker trays in the order that the astronauts are going to eat them. When the astronauts are ready to eat, the astronauts attach individual food containers to a tray with fasteners. The tray can attach to the astronaut’s lap or the wall.
While in space, astronauts tend to lose a little bit of their sense of taste. They also can’t smell food very well since the aroma wafts away before it reaches the astronaut’s nose. They also typically have perpetually stuffy noses since the fluids in their bodies tend to rise without gravity. So, to keep the astronauts happy, the meals are very flavorful and spiced so that the astronauts can taste it.
Things for scientists to consider when developing space food include storage, microbiological safety, preparation, and crumbs. Crumbs are a bigger deal than you might think. In zero gravity, crumbs can float away and end up in unwanted places. They could float into an astronaut’s eye or into equipment which could be very damaging. Astronauts use liquid salt and pepper for this reason. All their food is carefully contained to make sure they can be handled correctly in zero gravity. All drinks the astronauts have are packaged as dehydrated powders which are rehydrated with water through a special tube, making sure the drink stays contained.
Space food has come a long way. For example, when John Glenn became the first astronaut to eat in space in 1962, he squeezed applesauce out of an aluminum tube, just like toothpaste! Now astronaut meals are a lot like what we eat every day. Space food is rehydrated, reheated, or are just ready to eat – like Astronaut Ice Cream!
Things Astronauts Can Eat (Favorites):
- Chocolate covered nuts
- Soup (lentil, miso soup, and more)
- Macaroni & Cheese
- Fruit (usually freeze-dried)
- Shrimp, beef, chicken (freeze-dried)
- Spicy sauce (very popular since astronauts lose sense of taste)
Things Astronauts Can't Eat:
- Crackers (the crumbs are too messy)
- Chips (see cracker issues)
- Soda & Fizzy Drinks (burping is an issue in space)
- Pizza (attempts at enjoying pizza typically result in a mushy mess)