Today, astronauts eat a varied diet that is similar to what we eat on earth. Foods taken into space are pre-planned by the mission team and are often chosen from a menu by the astronauts themselves. To allow astronauts to stay in space for long periods, scientists have invented unique ways of packaging and preparing produce and meals.
In 1961, the first food was eaten in Space by Yuri Gagarin, who became the first man in space and the first person to eat in Space. Aboard Vostok 1 on 12 April 1961, Gagarin ate beef and liver paste from an aluminum tube by squeezing it into his mouth. For dessert, he had a chocolate sauce, eating the food by the same method.
Historically, space food was mainly dehydrated or provided in pastes and eaten from tubes. As science and technology have provided us with new forms of food processing, packaging and ingredients, the foods have also improved to now resemble many meals we have on Earth. When planning which foods to send into space, they are divided into the following groups:
● Fresh Foods – produce with a two-day shelf life, such as fruit and vegetables, are refrigerated onboard the spacecraft and consumed quickly to avoid spoilage. As vitamins and nutrients can generally be satisfied by other means, this product is sent to keep morale high.
● Irradiated Foods – meat and dairy produce have ionizing radiation applied to them before packaging. This increases the items’ shelf life and reduces the risks associated with microbial contamination.
● Intermediate moisture – these foods contain a small quantity of water (low enough to limit microbial growth) and are often soft in texture. Processes such as salting or sun-drying are used in the creation of these items and require no further preparation.
● Natural form foods – foods such as nuts, biscuits, and chocolate bars are simply packaged and ready to eat.
● Rehydratable foods and drinks – for a long time, this was the standard method of preparing food for Space. Removing the water from the food or drink makes it difficult for bacteria to multiply and dramatically extends the product’s shelf-life, and reduces the chance of spoilage. These products have water returned to them when the astronauts are ready to eat.
● Thermostabilized – heat-treating is used to prepare many of the ‘ready meals.’ Bacteria are killed off in this process by applying heat and then quickly sealing the product in air-tight packaging.
Astronauts mainly drink water while in space, but flavored drinks are also available. These are typically freeze-dried drink mixes such as coffee or tea, lemonade, and orange juice are
provided in vacuum-sealed pouches. For consumption, the astronauts add water to the beverage pouch through the pressurized hose and suck the drink through a straw.
Today, astronauts have a range of food and beverages to choose from. On the ISS, food is delivered refrigerated or dehydrated once every 90 days, which can be cooked in microwaves or convection ovens. Different nations aboard the ISS provide their traditional courses and snacks, helping the crew to share their cultures while having a taste of home.