Space food: Wikis


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Food aboard the International Space Station served in a tray. Note the use of magnets, springs, and Velcro to hold the cutlery and food packets on the tray

Space food is food products, specially created and processed for consumption by astronauts in outer space.


Early history

Astronauts making and eating hamburgers on board the ISS August 2007. Courtesy of NASA.


Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (1975)

A tube of borscht from the Soviet space program

The astronauts of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project received samples of Soviet space food when the combined crew dined together. Among the foods provided by Soyuz 19 were canned beef tongue, packaged Riga bread, and tubes of borscht and caviar. The borscht was labeled "vodka" as a joke.[1]

United States

One of John Glenn's many tasks, as the first American to orbit Earth in 1962, was to experiment with eating in weightless conditions. Some experts had been concerned that weightlessness would impair swallowing. Glenn experienced no difficulties, however, and it was determined that microgravity did not affect the natural swallowing process.

Project Mercury (1959-1963)

Astronauts in later Mercury missions disliked the food that was provided. They ate bite-sized cubes, freeze-dried powders, and tubes of semiliquids. The astronauts found it unappetizing, experienced difficulties in rehydrating the freeze-dried foods, and didn't like having to squeeze tubes or collect crumbs.[2]

Project Gemini (1965-1966)

Several of the food issues from the Mercury missions were addressed for the later Gemini missions. Tubes (often heavier than the foods they contained) were abandoned. Gelatin coatings helped to prevent bite-sized cubes from crumbling. Simpler rehydration methods were developed. The menus also expanded to include items such as shrimp cocktail, chicken and vegetables, toast squares, butterscotch pudding, and apple juice.[2]

The crew of Gemini III snuck a corned beef sandwich on their spaceflight. Mission Commander Gus Grissom loved corned beef sandwiches, so Pilot John Young brought one along, having been encouraged by fellow astronaut Walter Schirra. However, Young was supposed to only eat approved food, and Grissom wasn't supposed to eat anything. Floating pieces of bread posed a potential problem, causing Grissom to put the sandwich away (although he did enjoy it)[3] and the astronauts were mildly rebuked by NASA for the act. A congressional hearing was called, forcing the NASA deputy administrator George Mueller to promise no repeats. NASA took special care about what astronauts brought along on future missions.[4][5][6]

Apollo program (1968-1975)

The variety of food options continued to expand for the Apollo missions. The new availability of hot water made rehydrating freeze-dried foods simpler, and produced a more appetizing result. The "spoon-bowl" allowed more normal eating practices. Food could be kept in special plastic zip-closure containers, and its moisture allowed it to stick to a spoon.[2]

Skylab (1973-1974)

Larger living areas on the Skylab space station allowed for an on-board refrigerator and freezer, which allowed perishable and frozen items to be stored and made the microgravity the primary obstacle. When Skylab's solar panels were damaged during its launch and the station had to rely on minimal power from the Apollo Telescope Mount until Skylab 2 crewmembers performed repairs, the refrigerator and freezer were among the systems that Mission Control kept operational. Menus included items such as processed meat products and ice cream. A dining room table and chairs, fastened to the floor and fitted with foot and thigh restraints, allowed for a more normal eating experience. The trays used could warm the food, and had magnets to hold eating utensils and scissors to open food containers.


Today, fruits and vegetables that can be safely stored at room temperature are eaten on space flights. Astronauts also have a greater variety of entrées to choose from, and many request personalized menus from lists of available foods including items like fruit salad and spaghetti. Astronauts sometimes request beef jerky for flights, as it is lightweight, nutritious, and can be utilized in orbit without packaging or other changes.

Cultural favorites


In October 2003, the People's Republic of China commenced their first manned space flight. The astronaut, Yang Liwei, brought along with him and ate specially processed yuxiang pork (鱼香肉丝), Kung Pao chicken (宫保鸡丁), and Babao rice (simp: 八宝饭; trad: 八寶飯), along with Chinese herbal tea.[7] Food made for this flight and the subsequent manned flight in 2007 has been commercialized for sale to the mass market.[8][9]


In April 2008, South Korea’s first astronaut, Yi So-yeon, was a crew member on the International Space Station and brought a special version of Korea's national dish, kimchi. It took three research institutes several years and millions of dollars to create a version of the fermented cabbage dish that was suitable for space travel.[10]


In June 2008, Gregory Chamitoff brought bagels into space for the first time. He was on STS-124 for ISS Expedition 17, and brought with him 18 sesame seed Montreal-style bagels from his cousin's bakery.[11][12]


Russian space food.

Designing food for consumption in space is difficult. Foods must meet a number of criteria to be considered fit for space; first, the food must be physiologically appropriate, specifically, it must be nutritious, easily digestible, and palatable. Second, the food must be engineered for consumption in a zero gravity environment. As such, the food should be light, well packaged, quick to serve, and easy to clean up (foods that tend to leave crumbs, for example, are ill-suited for space). Finally, foods must require a minimum of energy expenditure throughout their use, i.e., they should store well, open easily, and leave little waste behind.

Carbonated drinks have been tried in space, but are not favored due to changes in burping caused by microgravity.[13] Coca-Cola and Pepsi were first carried on STS-51-F in 1985. Coca-Cola has flown on subsequent missions in a specially-designed dispenser that utilizes BioServe Space Technologies hardware used for biochemical experiments. Space Station Mir carried cans of Pepsi in 1996.


food tray used aboard the Space Shuttle

Packaging for space food serves the primary purposes of preserving and containing the food. The packaging however should also be light-weight, easy to dispose, and help in the preparation of the food for consumption. The packaging also includes a bar-coded label, which allows for the tracking of an astronaut's diet. The labels also specify the food's preparation instructions in both English and Russian[13].

Many foods from the Russian space program are packaged in cans and tins[14]. These are heated through electro-resistive (ohmic) methods, opened with a can-opener, and the food inside consumed directly. Russian soups are hydrated and consumed directly from their packages.[15]

NASA space foods are packaged in composite retorts similar to that found in US Army MREs [14]. They are also packaged in sealed containers which fit into trays to keep them in place. The trays include straps on the underside, allowing astronauts to attach the tray to an anchor point such as their legs or a wall surface and include clips for retaining a beverage pouch or utensils in the microgravity environment.


Assortment of foods served aboard the ISS.

There are several classification for food that is sent into space [2]:

  • Beverages (B) - Various rehydratable drinks.
  • Fresh Foods (FF)- Foods that spoil quickly that needs to be eaten within the first two days of flight to prevent spoilage.
  • Irradiated (I) Meat - Beef steak that is sterilized with ionizing radiation to keep the food from spoiling.
  • Intermediate Moisture (IM) - Foods that have some moisture but not enough to cause immediate spoilage.
  • Natural Form (NF) - Mostly unprocessed foods such as nuts, cookies and granola bars that are ready to eat.
  • Rehydratable (R) Foods - Foods that have been dehydrated and allowed to rehydrate in hot water prior to consumption.
  • Thermostabilized (T) - Foods that have been processed with heat to destroy microorganisms and enzymes that may cause spoilage.

More common staples and condiments do not have a classification and are known simply by the item name:

  • Shelf Stable Tortillas - Tortillas that have been heat treated and specially packaged in an oxygen free nitrogen atmosphere to prevent the growth of mold.
  • Condiments - Liquid salt solution, oily pepper paste, mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard.

Consumer Derivatives

Capitalizing on the popularity of the Apollo space missions, Pillsbury marketed "Food Sticks" (also known as "Space Food Sticks") for the consumer market in the early 1970s.[16] Fourteen individually-packaged sticks were included in a box, and came in six flavors such as peanut butter, caramel, and chocolate. Food Sticks were marketed as a "nutritionally balanced between meal snack".

Most of these products can now be found in novelty shops or at Army Surplus locations. Campers have taken to using products such as Tang due to their reliability, but some others, such as many of the freeze dried foods, contain fragrances that can heavily attract bears, cougars, and other forest animals.

Tang, originally marketed in 1959, also saw an increase in popularity during this era due to its inclusion on the manned space flights.


  1. ^ Former Astronaut Recalls Historic Apollo-Soyuz Mission NASA
  2. ^ a b c d NASA (2002-04-07). ""Food For Space Flight"". Fact Sheet Library. Retrieved 2006-12-12. 
  3. ^ Voice Transcript of GT-3
  4. ^ Detailed Biographies of Apollo I Crew - Gus Grissom
  5. ^ Gemini III Fact Sheet
  6. ^ De Groot, Gerard. Dark Side of the Moon: The Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar Quest. (NYU Press, 2006), p.190
  7. ^ 杨利伟的10月15日:飞船中的"非常"生活
  8. ^ Chinese astronaut food to hit market shelves
  9. ^ China-made space food for astronauts on display
  10. ^ Starship Kimchi: A Bold Taste Goes Where It Has Never Gone Before
  11. ^ Montreal-born astronaut brings bagels into space Sun. Jun. 1 2008 7:29 PM ET ; CTV National News - 1 June 2008 - 11pm TV newscast
  12. ^ The Gazette (Montreal), Here's proof: Montreal bagels are out of this world, IRWIN BLOCK, Tuesday June 3, 2008, Section A, Page A2
  13. ^ a b Kloeris, Vickie (May 1, 2001). ""Eating on the ISS"". Field Journal:Vickie Kloeris. Retrieved 2006-12-12. "Because there is no gravity, the contents of your stomach float and tend to stay at the top of your stomach, under the rib cage and close to the valve at the top of your stomach. Because this valve isn't a complete closure (just a muscle that works with gravity), if you burp, it becomes a wet burp from the contents in your stomach." 
  14. ^ a b Bourland, Charles (2001) Packaging foods for flight— NASA FTCSC News, July 2001
  15. ^ Lu, Edward (2003) Expedition 7: Eating at Cafe ISS, Greetings Earthlings:Ed's musings from space, [1]
  16. ^ Space Food Sticks

External links


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