Look What Astronauts Eat to Maintain Health And Safety In Orbit
Image Credit: Nuts | Image Credit: Unsplash.com

As we continue to push the limits of exploration, it's essential that we prioritize the well-being of those who bravely venture into the unknown. Be it the depths of the ocean or the outer reaches of space, it's crucial that we take the necessary precautions to ensure the health and safety of our explorers. For astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS), this means carefully planning and managing their diets to make sure they get the nutrients and sustenance they need to perform at their best while also protecting their bodies from the unique dangers of life in space.

One key factor to consider when it comes to astronaut nutrition is the impact of microgravity on the human body. The human body experiences a number of changes with the shift to near-zero gravity, including a loss of bone density and muscle mass, changes in the immune system, and fluid migration. To combat these effects, it is important for astronauts to consume a diet that is high in protein and calcium to help maintain bone density and muscle mass. They also need to stay hydrated, as the lack of gravity can cause fluid to shift from the lower body to the upper body, leading to puffiness in the face and congestion in the head.

The ISS is stocked with a variety of foods to meet the nutritional needs of astronauts, including fresh fruits and vegetables, cereals, legumes, nuts, and seeds, as well as a range of frozen, shelf-stable, and thermostabilized (heated to a high temperature to kill bacteria) options. Astronauts also have access to a kitchen where they can prepare their own meals using these ingredients, as well as a food warmer for heating pre-packaged meals. Several countries have been known to send regional staples along with their astronauts on routine visits to space stations, resulting in several firsts, such as the first time fresh coffee was consumed aboard the space station in 2015, made using a special machine co-developed by Lavazza and Agrotech, and a special bacteria-free kimchi that was sent to the ISS seven years prior with Ko San, the first south Korean astronaut that was sent into orbit.

While the ISS does have some fresh food options, the majority of the food supply is packaged and preserved in order to withstand the rigors of space travel and have a longer shelf life. These preserved foods are often vacuum-sealed or irradiated to kill bacteria and extend their shelf life. Some examples of preserved foods that may be found on the ISS include canned meats, dried fruit and vegetables, and freeze-dried ice cream. Modern astronauts have no shortage of food to choose from; the Russian crew alone has over 300 dishes to choose from, including readymade meals that need to be rehydrated and vegetables that are grown aboard the space station. The readymade meals are oftentimes made entirely by F&B conglomerates and available for purchase on the retail market. Several household brands, such as Nissin and Pillsbury, have sold limited runs of space food to an extremely receptive market.

In addition to the challenges of microgravity, there are also a number of other potential dangers that astronauts must protect themselves against while in space. One of these is the risk of radiation exposure, which can be harmful to the human body. To help mitigate this risk, astronauts are encouraged to consume a diet high in antioxidants, which can help protect cells from damage caused by radiation. Foods that are high in antioxidants include berries, leafy green vegetables, and nuts.

Another potential danger for astronauts is the risk of food poisoning, which can be more serious in the close quarters of the ISS. To prevent foodborne illness, the ISS has strict food safety guidelines in place, including measures to prevent cross-contamination and the proper handling and storage of food. All food that is sent to the ISS is also carefully screened for bacteria and other contaminants before it is sent on the mission.

In addition to the precautions taken to protect against foodborne illness, the ISS also has a number of other systems in place to keep astronauts healthy and safe. These include a water recycling system that filters and cleans the water supply, a waste management system that safely gets rid of trash and other waste, and a medical bay with supplies and equipment to treat a wide range of illnesses and injuries.

The health and safety of astronauts on the ISS is a top priority, and a key part of this is ensuring that they have a healthy and nutritious diet that meets their needs and helps to protect them from the unique dangers of life in space. From carefully selecting and preserving food to following strict food safety guidelines and taking measures to protect against radiation and other dangers, the ISS is equipped to support the health and well-being of its crew members as they push the boundaries of exploration.