John Glenn was the first astronaut to eat food in space. Originally, scientists thought that if anyone ate food in space that the food might not go down their esophagus because of the lack of gravity. Now we know that gravity doesn’t effect how food travels from the mouth to the stomach. The muscles in the throat contract and push the food down into the stomach. So it didn’t matter if the person ate upside down, the food will still travel to the stomach. The trick was to package the food so it wouldn’t float away while the astronaut was eating and to make it appetizing.
Packaging of Space Food
Since early space travel, space food packaging has greatly improved. Food was packaged differently back in the days when John Glenn was up in space for his first time. He had to squeeze the food out of the tubes and also try to get it in his mouth at the same time in very little gravity.
During his early days in space John Glenn was limited to eating freeze dried powders, bite size cubes of food that had a gelatin coating, and pasty foods in a tube. YUCK! The food needed moisture and flavor.
Astronauts need food that has its water removed (dehydrated), in outer space for three main reasons. The first reason is: that food, in its normal stage with its water (hydrated), is too heavy. Secondly, these fully hydrated foods spoil quickly. Last, but not least, fully hydrated foods take up too much space. Therefore, the astronauts are able to take more dehydrated foods than hydrated foods into the outer space. If they brought regular water or food into space it could float into the controls and leave the astronauts with no control of what the shuttle did or where it went.
Food labs worked on improving the packaging of foods. This was a great help because now the astronauts are in orbit for days or weeks at a time. Because of the change in packaging, astronauts were able to increase the variety of foods to choose from. Presently, there are 72 different food choices for the astronauts!
The Luxuries of Eating in Space
Before it was very uncomfortable eating. The people in space had no use of chairs, tables, knives, forks, plates or even a galley! They had to use their little work area also for eating. Now the astronauts get the luxury of sitting down at a table with a tray and an assortment of food! They have a pantry (including two days worth of extra food per astronaut), a freezer, a refrigerator, and a galley to eat in! Below is a table showing how space food has improved with each major group of astronauts sent into space.
Categories of Food
Let’s make it clear that the space food is prepared and packaged before the astronauts leave planet Earth. When the astronauts are hungry, they choose from nine different categories of prepared food. Then, all they need to do is reheat or reconstitute (to restore a dried substance to its full liquid form by adding water). The food categories are:
The following is a sample of what space shuttle commander Steve Lindsey had for breakfast during flight day 2 on mission STS-104 (date unknown).
It is clear that the packaging, texture and variety of food taken into space have changed from the early days of space travel. If I ever make it to be a space traveler, I hope that I can order calamari, refried beans and a gyros sandwich with a root beer float!
Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. Food For Space Flight. <www.jsc.nasa.gov/pao/factsheets/nasapubs/food.html> Last visited: December,2001.
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Space Today, Tomorrow, and Always. </J0112188/> Last visited: December, 2001.
Space in the Spotlight Novi Meadows Elementary 2002
All pictures courtesy of NASA unless otherwise noted