Space Food on a tray, International Space Station
What do people eat in space?
The short answer is: The same stuff we eat on Earth, more or less, but prepared in a way that A) It doesn’t spoil while being transported to/stored in space, and B) It doesn’t cause an unbelievable mess during the consumption process.
Point A is important because, as you may be aware, there are no Wal-Marts, Publixes, or Whole Foods in space. Whatever you’ve got is what you bring with you – you do all the shopping on the ground, more or less.
Point B is also important, because spacecraft are rare machines – state of the art, obscenely expensive, assembled-by-hand vehicles that do what no other machines can do. Having them be full of crumbs, sauce, or coca-cola would be detrimental to their operation.
Early Russian Space Food
Early space food came in tubes as paste (the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, ate puréed meat and chocolate sauce for space-lunch), or were specially prepared as gelatin cubes, freeze-dried powders, and other incredibly unappetizing configurations. In 1965, the two-man crew of the American spacecraft Gemini III snuck a corned beef sandwich onboard – this actually sparked a subsequent congressional hearing, where NASA was forced to promise congress that they would be more careful about what they let astronauts bring onboard in the future. Obviously it would be a real hassle if they lost a spacecraft because an astronaut was sick of eating crappy space food.
Space food reached a new high in 1973 with the Skylab space station, which featured such obscene luxuries as a fridge – allowing more types of perishable items to be stored onboard the spacecraft. Processed meat, ice cream, and other goodies were made available.
One of the interesting challenges of eating in space is that weightlessness itself dulls a person’s sense of taste and smell due to head congestion – making the experience of eating in space not quite as pleasurable as eating on earth.
Making hamburgers on the International Space Station
Today, space food is generally of the same quality (and selection) as earth food, except that “space food” sounds way cooler, and is therefore better (by the universal ‘rule of cool’).
Actual diversity of space food is poor, as ultimately, it all comes from the same place – the earth.
– Patrick Benjamin