The first space food was very unappetizing. Most of it was squeezed from tubes like toothpaste, or made into freeze-dried bites. John Glenn, the first American to eat food in space, also found the menu was very limited. The astronauts complained that the freeze-dried foods were hard to rehydrate and they had to keep crumbs from ruining their instruments, so the space scientists improved their food. Astronauts could eat apple sauce and even butterscotch pudding.
The Apollo astronauts were the first to have hot water and the spoon bowl, a container you eat out of with a spoon. Soon astronauts had a dining hall, table, a large storage area, and the first space freezer and refrigerator. Plus they could hold themselves down by the table with footholds.
An astronaut’s food is prepared on Earth and some can also be found in regular stores online, for example, peach ambrosia and beef pot roast. Diets and meals items are made to have the right amount of vitamins and minerals needed in space. Shuttle astronauts now have a large list of food items and can even design their own menus. The shuttle contains a water dispenser for rehydrating food and an oven for warming foods to the proper serving temperature.
In a space meal, a meal tray is used to hold food containers, and can be strapped to a wall. The meal tray is rather like an airplane tray, and some airplane food containers look like space ones. Astronauts use the same utensils we do: a fork, spoon, and knife. The only odd utensils are scissors for cutting open plastic seals. Most menus and food items an astronaut wants can be set up in about 5 minutes. Heating rehydrating foods can take about 20 – 30 minutes.
In addition to the main food storage, there is pantry food that can last each person 2 days of extra meals, snacks, and drinks, in case the flight is delayed. Pantry food may also be exchanged for other normal food items. Meals are stored in lockers; a net keeps food packages from floating around in micro gravity. The lockers are labeled with the name of what it holds. The fresh food locker contains tortillas, fresh bread, breakfast rolls, apples, bananas, oranges, celery and carrot sticks, and other fresh fruits and vegetables. Food lockers are made and packed in Houston, then sent to Kennedy Space Center. 2 or 3 days before the shuttle takes off, the lockers are stored in the shuttle.
The Space Station food system is very different from shuttle food system. There is no extra water in the Space Station and the power source is solar panels. Unlike shuttle food, the Space Station food is frozen, refrigerated, or thermostabilized so as not to use up any water to make them ready. Most beverages, however, are in dehydrated form.
Since the sun is the Space Station’s power source, no extra water is available on the Space Station. But still the Space Station has plenty of water. This is because the Russian space module, Zarya, is packed with water containers that hold up to 90 pounds each. In the Space Station, humans must recycle water, including their own urine. Research animals on the Space Station count as much as humans; about 72 rats equal a human. It sounds pretty disgusting, but as Layne Carter, a water processing specialist, says, “The water we generate is much cleaner than anything you’ll ever get out of any tap in the United States.” This means that space water is really purer than the water on Earth.
Space Food in the Future
Famous chefs have begun to try to adapt their recipes to space food. Some have had their food eaten by astronauts on the Space Station or in the shuttle. It isn’t usual to have these foods on the menu, but could space food in the future be fancy food every day? Imagine that astronauts in space get to eat food that is better than what most people on Earth get to eat.
Michele Perchonok, NASA’s manager of the Space Food Systems Laboratory, says, “The food itself probably won’t change a whole lot. What we’re looking at though is packaging.”
Perchonok hopes that different packaging might not create as much trash. Also food scientists are working on food with a longer shelf life. Some scientists are sure that somewhere on the moon or mars it would be possible to grow vegetables and other foods. Astronauts wouldn’t have to eat as much packaged food. Two main crops would be wheat and soy beans to make pasta bread and tofu.
Perchonok says, “On a 1000 day mission to Mars for a crew of six we’ll need about 10000 kilograms if we went with our packaged food system. If we can save on that by growing some items, by bringing some items up in bulk, it will by a lot easier at least in the mass and volume arena.”
Space food is getting more and more important. It would be very easy if it was possible to grow at least part of all space food in space. Growing food in space might actually succeed.