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


11 responses »

  1. James Simmons says:

    Could you imagine the potential damage one corn beef sandwich could cause? Its interesting to read about the progression of space food, if your interested here’s a article from How Stuff Works on Space Food.

  2. Space food does sound pretty cool. I always wondered why they couldn’t just bring regular food, but it does make sense now that I realize that regular food could go bad easily due to going through the atmosphere, and the fear of it floating around and potentially loosing focus on the ship. I find that interesting.

    Klarissa Parduba

  3. mvalenti (14) says:

    Hahahaha, we complain about the lack of variety at Publix. Lucky we aren’t astronauts. The food in the picture actually looks just like the frozen dinners they sell to everyday people not traveling to space. I guess NASA found a way to make them a little more healthy at least for their astronauts. Why can’t we do that on earth? Anyway, really funny post.

  4. Reminds me of when I went to the Kennedy Space Center for the first time and I ate dried Space Ice Cream…it was crunchy, dry, and lukewarm. Yep.

  5. Danielle Burke says:

    I never really considered why space food was made so differently but the mess regular food would cause really makes sense. After trying space ice cream I don’t think it’d be particularly pleasant eating that type of stuff for the duration of time you’re in space, but then again you’d be in outer space, so that’d trump what food you’re eating anyday.

  6. Hah this is awesome. I remember having space ice cream when I was a kid and thinking it was terrible. I think that’s what made me not want to be an astronaut. Interesting to hear all the reasons why it’s different and how it has changed for the better over the years.

  7. April Manuel says:

    Whoa, crazy. I don’t know if I could do that. How could someone live off food in a tube that sounds hard or powdered food. I know that’s not all but its just interesting to read this article and learn about space food. I’m glad I eat my food on earth so that it tastes good since you mentioned it dulls their taste eatting in space.

  8. Jessica Langstine says:

    I LOVE food.. so I am certain I would be absolutely miserable living off of space food. When I was pregnant with my daughter the nurse gave me a long list of foods I needed to stay away from while pregnant… most of the items on the list were my favorite foods. That was terrible then not being allowed to eat those foods; much less going without ALL earth foods.

  9. Fun read, and something I never really gave much thought to before. When my dad was in the military they carred MRE’s (Meal’s Ready to Eat) on long trips or physical training exercises. They were pretty much the same exact thing as what’s in that first photo you posted.

  10. April says:

    Wow I couldn’t imagine eating pureed meats that just sounds wrong on so many leaves. Maybe if that’s what we had to eat here on earth we wouldn’t be such an obese nation but then again I do love the tastes of food on earth and would hate to give up our yummy (sooo unhealthy) chicken nugget for meat out of a tub. I didn’t realize they now take regular food with them I thought they still used the packaged stuff interesting to know we are on the way to having a McDonalds in space shortly.

  11. Ryan Schnee says:

    That is interesting to think about. I haven’t thought of the two, space food in tubes and the low diversity of tasting food here, as parallels but it is actually a good analogy. Interesting…

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