Fifty Years of NASA’s Space Food

NASA’s Advanced Space Food Technology Project is responsible for providing space flight crews with a food system that is safe & nutritious to the crew while balancing appropriate vehicle mass, waste & food preparation time for exploration missions. For the past fifty years, the process involved in the preservation method have evolved from pilots eating seed & crackers to allowing for gourmet diets like freeze dried shrimp & meats to be eaten. 

John Glenn was one the first American to eat anything in the near weightlessness of Earth orbit. Before that, Russian astronaut, Yuri Gagarin, experimented by eating 3 toothpaste-type tubes weighing 160 grams, serving pure meat & chocolate sauce for lunch. John Glenn found the task of eating on space is fairly easy, but found the menu to be limited. Many Mercury astronauts had to tolerate bite-sized cubes, freeze dried powders & semi liquids stuffed in a tube made of aluminum. The astronauts on space found it unappetizing & experienced difficulties in rehydrating the freeze dried foods. They did not like having to squeeze tubes. Besides, freeze-dried foods produced crumbs which could foul instruments.

Most of the food issues from the Mercury missions were addressed in the Gemini missions. Squeeze tubes were altogether discarded. Bite-sized cubes were coated with gelatin to reduce crumbling & the freeze dried foods were encased in a plastic container to make reconstituting easier. Later, with improved packaging, improved food quality & menus is maintained. Gemini astronauts had such food choices as shrimp cocktail, chicken & vegetables, butterscotch pudding, & apple sauce. They were able to select meal combinations themselves.

From the time of the Apollo program, the quality & variety of space food increased even further. They got hot water which made rehydrating foods easier & improved the food’s quality & taste. These astronauts were also the first to eat out of a bowl with a spoon.

Eating in space developed further in Skylab. Larger living areas on the Skylab allowed for an on-board refrigerator, which allowed perishable & frozen items to be stored.

Shuttle astronauts have an astonishing array of food items to choose from. They may take space food from a standard menu designed around a typical Shuttle mission of seven days, or may substitute items to accommodate their own tastes or design their own menus.
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