All You Need to Know About Food in Space!
Image Credit: Food in space.

Viral videos of astronauts making and munching peanut butter tortillas and attempting to drink water bubbles that float away in space, make up for the perfect binge watch. So many of us have wondered time and again how food would taste in space. Would our favourite plate of pasta or a hot bowl of dal makhani make for an interesting meal as we orbit around Earth? What do astronauts consume daily for lunch? Does food float around in space crafts and if so, do astronauts spend time chasing their dinner? How is food packaged to make sure it stays stuck to the container? There are so many questions about food in space that cross our minds, every now and then. To answer all of these questions and put your imagination at rest, we have put together a comprehensive guide to food in space!

What do astronauts usually eat in a day?

Astronauts have to make sure that they consume a minimum of 2500 calories per day through meals and snacks, in order to maintain their body weight and muscle mass. Scientists prepare menus for astronauts that include vegetables, fresh fruits, snacks, ready for use meals and desserts. Some common food items to choose from on space crafts include nuts, peanut butter, chicken, beef, seafood, candy, brownies, etc. Available drinks include coffee, tea, orange juice, fruit punches and lemonade. Astronauts are provided a diet rich in nutrients, calcium and vitamins, to make sure that they remain healthy and strong.

Dining in space would have been a tiring experience, if it wasn’t for quick witted scientists who found a way to use velcros and magnets to give astronauts a normal eating experience. Velcro bands on the tray and on food packages help to keep packages stuck to the tray so that they don’t float around during dinner. Spoons and other cutlery stick to the tray by magnetic force.

Food doesn’t taste the same as on Earth

Wasabi can truly be an astronauts best friend in space! As fluids act differently in space, an astronaut’s sense of taste is impacted. On Earth, body fluids generally settle towards our feet. In reduced gravity, these body fluids move freely in our bodies. This can create a feeling similar to having a cold leading to the food tasting bland. To reactivate their taste buds, many astronauts develop a preference for sweet, salty, bitter, and particularly hot foods like peppers and spicy flavours such as horseradish or wasabi!

The first food ever to be eaten in space was eaten out of a tube! 

The first man to reach space was Soviet Union’s Yuri Gagarin. As much as he would have liked it, Gagarin’s first meal on board wasn’t a hot bowl of Borscht. Instead, the first meal ever eaten in space was puréed meat and a serving of chocolate sauce! What’s more is that the food was in the form of a paste that had to be squeezed out of tube. Over a period of many decades food consumed in space evolved to more appetising options, packed in ways enabling more normal eating practices.

FOMO for crunchy chips and salsa in space:

NASA astronaut Christina Koch spent 328 days on a space ship, which landed on Earth in 2020. One of the things that she missed most while in space was eating chips and salsa! Speaking about why she couldn’t have crunchy food throughout her space expedition and the reason because of which crunchy food is avoided on the International Space Station, Kocha said, “the crumbs might be hazardous to the equipment.” Other than crunchy foods, bread, granular spices and seasonings (like oregano and chilli flakes that you put on your pizza) aren’t allowed on space too! Interestingly, NASA has developed liquid alternatives to spices and seasonings.

The first ever baking experiment in space was cookies baked for Santa!

Yes you read that write. Cookies have been baked in space. How much time does it take to bake a cookie on Earth? Around 20 minutes! However, it took two hours for astronauts Christina Koch and Luca Parmitano to bake the first ever cookie in space, in 2020. After the successful baking experiment, the astronaut Koch tweeted, “We made space cookies and milk for Santa this year.”

ISRO’s (Indian Space Research Organisation) menu for mission Gaganyaan includes Dal Makhani, Idlis and Moong Dal Halwa 

Gaganyaan - India’s maiden crewed space flight that’ll be in space by next year, will have an interesting desi menu for our astronauts to choose from. Mouth watering dal makhani, chicken biryani, idlis, moong dal halwa, shahi paneer, chicken korma, aloo paratha and even mango pickle will be available to choose from. Special straws to drink water and instant tea and coffee will be packed for the astronauts.

How much food would I need if I were on a Martian voyage?

According to NASA, it will take over three years to complete a trip to the red planet, and back. In order for three to four people to survive such a voyage, thousands of kilograms of food could be needed. If you were headed to mars with your squad, a martian mission for you and your friends, eating three meals each day would mean, carrying more than 10,886 kilograms of food!

Can astronauts crack open a bottle of beer on the space craft?

No. Astronauts are not allowed to bring any type of alcohol to space. Even in crew care packages in the space craft, the mouthwash and aftershave can not include any alcohol. However, there have been reports of some Russian cosmonauts sneaking in alcohol to space in book covers. While a debate goes on around whether alcohol should be allowed in space or not, almost all space agencies have put a formal ban on all types of alcohols, in the space craft.

Astronauts often request for their traditional dishes to be featured on the menu:

Being away from your home can be challenging for astronauts who have to survive on limited food options on days at end. As a gesture of bringing a bit of their culture on to their plates on a space expedition, astronauts from various countries have often requested for traditional food items as part of their space menu. Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei brought specially processed Kung Pao Chicken with him. Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti became the first woman to drink a cup of hot freshly brewed coffee in space. Leave it to the Japanese to make sushi, ramen and even matcha tea available for their astronauts while orbiting in space. The most interesting fact about bringing traditional food to space is that it took over one million dollars to create a version of Kimchi that’s suitable for space travel for South Korean astronaut Yi So-Yeon.

You can taste the popular freeze-died ice cream, also known as astronaut or space ice cream, here on Earth!

Most food that’s packed for astronauts is subjected to a process called freeze-dying which is a low temperature dehydration technique that helps to extend shelf life of that particular food. Astronauts ice cream is ice cream that has had water removed from it by undergoing freeze dying, making it edible without the need of refrigeration. Such ice cream can be kept at room temperature without melting. You can order and consume space ice cream at some science museums and at gift centres in NASA.