Foods in Space

Ethan Wong

January 27, 2023

While traveling through space in a weightless space capsule, astronauts are provided with an abundance of different freeze-dried foods that are tasty, and also supply the essential nutrients and vitamins to keep them active and healthy throughout their mission. 

With food in space, requirements and testing must be established and met before they are sent to the astronauts, regardless of how long a mission is. Some of the most paramount requirements for foods include being easily-digestible, neat (no crumbs), simple packaging, as well as easily accessible. An example of these requirement are with cookies, a food that inevitably creates crumbs; they would either need liquid to hold it together, or be bite-size.

All foods in space will have a tiny portion of liquid added to them–like dehydrated milk or water–which will stop them from creating messes and floating crumbs/broken portions of food. The surface tension in the liquids in space will allow the molecules within the foods to stick together, which is where fluid comes in. An instance of this necessity is with granola, which would be a mess without the yogurt holding it together. Some dishes also conveniently come with liquid, like pasta sauce for pasta. So how do you prepare dishes in space? 

Food containers/pouches contain a piece of foil that can be punctured with a needle to provide an entry way for water. After adding water, which can be set at different temperatures, the food can then be eaten.

There are different methods for transporting and storing food while on a space mission. NASA provides astronauts with pouches or sealed containers with freeze-dried food. In the Russian Space Program, they use cans or carry dehydrated foods in tins to eat. Freeze-drying is essential when transporting foods to space by removing 97% of liquid creating a lighter and cheaper payload.

The loss of gravity causes certain foods to be banned on board, like bread which leaves crumbs flying around. Particle-producing foods and foods like salt and pepper are hazards aboard space capsules and stations because they will float away due to gravity, potentially clogging air vents, contaminating gear, or even getting caught in an astronaut’s eye or nose. Although they are drinkable, carbonated drinks like soda or sparkling water can cause astronauts to vomit; the typical burping that comes with drinking carbonated fluids is altered due to the environment of space.

During the Mercury missions, the astronauts were given solid cubes of food, tubes for liquids, and freeze-dried powders. However, the crew found them unappetizing and they mentioned it was difficult to rehydrate, and cleaning crumbs and using tubes for drinks weren’t ideal. During Gemini and Apollo missions, NASA got rid of the semiliquid tubes and developed gelatin for foods as well as an easier dehydration process. Additionally, the menu of food was expanded, hot water was added to the water system, and zip-up containers were used. During 1973 and 1974, the Skylab space station presented an operational freezer for foods to be stored during missions, and frozen foods became a popular menu choice. Today, NASA’s hardworking team has developed appetizing and simple meals for astronauts to feast on during their space journeys.