An Introduction to Space Food

WHAT’S THIS SPACE FOOD MALARKEY ALL ABOUT?

So you want to learn a thing or two about space food do you? Well you’ve come to the right place! In what is to be a series of blog posts we will learn about the evolution of space food, from the early space race all the way through to space food as we know it today.

We will also cover topics such as the manufacture of space food, the difficulties eating in space represents and we will even hear from a few astronauts regarding their first hand experiences while eating in space.

As you can see we have quite a lot to cover so I’ll start by giving you one small piece of interesting information in the form of a ‘did you know?’.

Here goes; Did you know that NASA, Roscosmos and ESA all manufacture their own space food? It goes without saying that a European Astronaut’s palate wouldn’t quite suit a Russian Cosmonaut, and vice versa, so it should come as no surprise for you to discover that NASA, Roscosmos and ESA all manufacture their own space food. I promised you interesting, now wasn’t that interesting?

Let’s move on.

European Space Agency Food
Space food floating through the International Space Station.

THE YEAR WAS 1959

Project Mercury was the United States’ response to the Soviet Union’s attempt to put a man into Earth orbit and bring him back alive. But in the early days of the 1959 Mercury Program the newly-established NASA had no spaceflight experience, and unlike today, did not know the answers to many of the most fundamental spaceflight questions. The Mercury 7 were to be the pathfinders on this journey of discovery, starting of course with John Glenn.

In 1959 no man or woman, Russian, American or European, had ever stepped foot into space and at that time this very concept was considered science fiction. And yet, both the Russians and the Americans were attempting to turn science fiction into science fact. But there were hundreds, if not thousands of questions that needed to be answered if there was to be any hope of sending men (and women) into space. It was one of the simplest questions which had the potential to put an end human spaceflight before it had even begun, and it wasn’t a question of engineering as one would expect, but rather human physiology; ‘Would a human be able to eat and drink in a weightless environment?’

This question seems somewhat ridiculous to us today, I mean, of course a person can eat and drink in a weightless environment! But in 1959 neither NASA nor Roscosmos knew the answer to this most basic, and yet vital of questions. If an astronaut wasn’t able to swallow in space then that would make it impossible for them to eat and drink, and if true would leave the concept of human spaceflight dead in the water.

Neither NASA nor Roscosmos could answer this question without putting it to the test. This in itself was only a matter of time given that the Russian Vostok Program and the American Mercury Program were aiming to put a man into Earth orbit and bring him back alive in what would be, for the most part, a neck and neck race. But as fate would have it, it would not be NASA whom put a man into Earth orbit first, but rather Roscosmos. Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the Earth, having spent 1 hour and 48 minutes orbiting in his Vostok 1 spacecraft, and thankfully in that time he had no difficulty in swallowing which is fortunate because this would have been a much shorter article had that been the case!  In fact, not only did Yuri have no difficulty in swallowing but he even enjoyed a lunch consisting of three 160g toothpaste-style tubes of food. The first two containing puréed meat and the third containing chocolate sauce… because what is puréed meat without a healthy serving of chocolate sauce?

John Glenn Space Food
Mercury 7 Astronaut John Glenn’s Space Food, yum!

But what about the first American to orbit the Earth? Well, John Glenn aboard his Friendship 7 spacecraft apparently had a simpler palate than his Russian counterpart Yuri, and enjoyed a serving of Applesauce from an aluminium toothpaste-like tube which was followed by a healthy serving of xylose sugar tablets with water. Now I know what you’re thinking, rather them than me, but such was the early days of Vostok and Mercury! But fortunately for John he was given more than just applesauce and sugar water to consume for the remainder of his flight. To leave him with such a meagre ration would have just been cruel, and that wasn’t NASA’s style. Glenn was also fashioned with an aluminium tube of puréed Beef and Vegetables which he did in fact consume, I imagine with gusto given his earlier meal. The empty tube can be found in the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in Washington DC.

Well that’s all we have for the introduction to space food. Stay tuned for more amazing stories on the history of space food within NASA, Roscosmos and ESA, how it’s made and more!

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