You Won’t Believe the Weird Foods Astronauts Eat in Outer Space
If you went to space, you’d probably realize that many popular myths about space travel aren’t 100% true. Yet one myth that does hold true is that astronauts eat carefully packaged and prepared foods while they’re in space. You may have heard that there are no refrigerators available (they’re just too power-intensive), or that scientists have to create meals that won’t float away from hungry space travelers in a microgravity environment.
NASA reports that since the start of human spaceflight, scientists have worked to improve the taste, texture, and shelf life of the foods that astronauts eat. But because astronauts don’t have refrigerators, many of the foods get freeze-dried, irradiated, or dehydrated, which prevents spoilage. (Obviously, people don’t sign up to go to space for the food.)
If you’re curious about exactly what weird foods astronauts have to tolerate when they go to space, read on to get all the details.
15. Rehydratable macaroni and cheese
NASA explains that in space, astronauts eat many rehydratable foods. Food scientists can conserve weight during launch by removing the water from many foods. Then, the astronauts use water generated by the spacecraft’s fuel cells to rehydrate those foods.
Rehydratable foods that astronauts eat include appetizers like shrimp cocktail, soups such as chicken consommé and cream of mushroom, and even casseroles such as chicken and rice or macaroni and cheese. Astronauts also eat breakfast cereal, in packages with dry milk and sugar, which gets rehydrated just before they eat it.
Next: Astronauts eat these foods, even though they might get smelly.
14. Thermostabilized tuna and salmon
Another strange-sounding class of foods that astronauts eat in space? Thermostabilized foods. As NASA explains, thermostabilized foods undergo heat processing to destroy harmful microorganisms and enzymes. That sounds pretty high-tech. But you’ve probably eaten these foods yourself.
As NASA reports, “Individual servings of thermostabilized foods are commercially available in aluminum or bimetallic cans, plastic cups or flexible retort pouches.” Most of the fish that astronauts eat are thermostabilized in cans — just like the tuna and salmon you can buy at the grocery store. Astronauts on shuttle missions reportedly didn’t like it when their colleagues ate seafood meals, but that may be less of a problem on the more expansive International Space Station.
Next: Astronauts get this popular beverage in powder form.
13. Powdered orange juice
When astronauts want something to drink, they have to rehydrate their beverage of choice. According to NASA, all of the beverages come in powdered form. Astronauts can choose from among options such as coffee, tea, apple cider, lemonade, and even orange juice.
Each beverage comes in a package made from a foil laminate. The astronaut uses an adapter on the package to connect it to a water dispenser. After they’ve added water, then they use a straw to drink the beverage. That’s a lot more complicated than just walking to the fridge and grabbing a carton of orange juice!
Next: Much of the food that astronauts eat goes through this scary-sounding process.
12. Irradiated turkey
Another strange-sounding category of foods that astronauts eat? Irradiated meals and snacks. Contrary to what it might sound like, irradiation doesn’t make food radioactive. Instead, it extends the shelf life of foods by eliminating microorganisms and insects. Astronauts eat an assortment of irradiated foods, such as smoked turkey.
And you’ve probably eaten irradiated food, too. The FDA has approved a variety of foods for irradiation in the United States, including beef and pork, crustaceans, fresh fruits and vegetables, and even spices and seasonings.
Next: Astronauts eat this food instead of bread for a very practical reason.
11. Tortillas as an ‘edible wrapper’
NASA characterizes tortillas as “an edible wrapper to keep food from floating away.” NASA explains that tortillas took the place of crumbly bread. “Picture trying to make a sandwich with two slices of bread,” the agency explains. “In space, you’d need three hands to do it.” Tortillas work much better. Plus, the partially-dehydrated type that NASA serves will still taste good after being stored for up to 18 months on the International Space Station.
NASA notes that tortillas became a part of astronauts’ diets thanks to Rodolfo Neri Vela, a payload specialist from Mexico, who flew on the space shuttle in 1985. Vela introduced tortillas to the space food system, and NASA originally bought fresh tortillas the day before launch to send on an 8 to 10 day space shuttle mission.
Next: Astronauts get very few fresh foods.
10. The only fresh foods: fruits and vegetables
When you go to space, you don’t exactly get to dine on meals made of delicious fresh foods. NASA explains that almost all the food that’s sent to the space station, for instance, is precooked. Precooked foods doesn’t require refrigeration. Plus, it’s either ready to eat, or can be prepared simply by adding water or by heating. The only exception to the no-fresh-foods rule? The fruits and vegetables that get stowed in the fresh food locker.
As NASA explains, resupply spacecrafts replenish the International Space Station’s store of fresh fruits and vegetables. But “When these foods arrive to the space station, they must be eaten quickly before they spoil.”
Next: Do you know the first food that an American astronaut ate in space?
9. Applesauce in a tube
Have you ever wondered about the very first food that American astronauts ate in space? According to NASA, “The first American astronaut to eat in space dined on applesauce squeezed from a no-frills, aluminum toothpaste-like tube.”
NASA explains, “John Glenn, America’s first man to eat anything in the near-weightless environment of Earth orbit, found the task of eating fairly easy, but found the menu to be limited. ” His first meal in space? Applesauce from an aluminum tube, which he consumed during a 1962 Mercury space mission.
Next: Do you know the first meal that American astronauts ate on the moon?
8. Ham salad sandwiches
You’ve probably heard of egg salad, chicken salad, and even tuna salad. But what’s a ham salad sandwich? The first meal eaten on the moon, according to Time. The publication explains, “Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to eat on the moon when they consumed ham-salad sandwiches, rehydratable beverages and ‘fortified fruit strips’ during their lunar excursion.”
In fact, the publication adds, “The Apollo 11 astronauts actually ate four meals on the moon’s surface; their resulting waste is still in the lunar module they left behind.”
Next: This strange-sounding food is actually quite popular among astronauts on the International Space Station.
7. Freeze-dried shrimp cocktail
Time also reports that at the International Space Station, a joint venture between the U.S. and Russia, astronauts have to follow diplomatic guidelines that indicate how much food they eat from each country.
NASA’s food laboratory offers about 185 different menu items. Russia offers about 100. And when Japan sent up its first crew member in 2008, 30 dishes went with him. The most popular meal on the ISS, interestingly enough, is freeze-dried shrimp cocktail served with horseradish-infused powdered sauce.
Next: Many of of the early foods that NASA provided didn’t look so appetizing.
6. Food cut up into bite-sized cubes
NASA explains that “Originally, all foods eaten by astronauts in space were in the form of bite-sized cubes, freeze-dried food, or semi-liquids inside toothpaste-type tubes.” Most early astronauts agreed that the foods were pretty unappetizing. They also disliked squeezing the tubes. Plus, freeze-dried foods proved difficult to rehydrated, and they had to prevent crumbs from damaging instruments.
Fortunately, things have improved over the years, and astronauts have more choices now. In fact, they can choose from more than 200 different food and drink items. NASA reports that current-day astronauts actually get the menu months in advance, so that they can make their selections as they prepare for their mission.
Next: Astronauts don’t get these popular seasonings in their normal form.
5. Liquid salt and pepper
One of the weirdest foods that astronauts eat in space? Liquid salt and pepper. NASA reports that these spices go to the International Space Station in liquid form so that astronauts can actually use them to season their food. NASA explains, “Seasonings like salt and pepper have to be used in liquid form and dispensed through a bottle on the space station. If they were granulated, the particles would float away before they even reached the food.”
Plus, if the particles of salt and pepper floated away, they could clog air vents, contaminate equipment, or even hurt astronauts’ eyes or noses. So NASA suspends the pepper in oil and dissolves the salt in water.
Next: Many astronauts love this condiment in space, even if they never eat it at home.
4. Hot sauce on everything
Not everybody likes hot sauce. That probably holds true for astronauts, too — but you wouldn’t know it by their eating habits in space. According to NASA, some people who have spent time in space have said that “food is not the same while in microgravity.” Some say all food tastes bland. Others dislike their favorite foods. And some love to eat foods they wouldn’t eat on earth — like hot sauce.
NASA reports that it probably has something to do with a phenomenon called “stuffy head,” when astronauts’ heads get stopped up because the fluids in the nasal passages stay put and blood collects in the upper part of the body. “For this reason, hot sauce is used A LOT on the space station to make up for the bland flavor,” NASA explains.
Next: NASA used to provide astronauts with these gross-sounding foods.
3. Gelatin-coated sandwich and cookie cubes
NASA reports that its food scientists have come up with some pretty ingenious inventions over the years. But not all of them are still in use. One example? Gelatin-coated sandwich and cookie cubes.
Gelatin-coated food sounds pretty gross. But NASA reports that the coating had the purpose of reducing crumbling. That, in turn, limited the number of crumbs flying around to mess up the equipment or get in astronauts’ eyes. Anything in the name of science, right?
Next: Astronauts actually liked this strange food.
2. Compressed bacon squares
Another food that NASA developed, and then retired, as better options became available? Compressed bacon squares. Popular Science reports that on the first manned Apollo mission, Apollo 7, astronauts actually ate a lot of bacon. “Bacon was a key food in three out of four breakfasts,” the publication explains. And strangely enough, the crew actually seems to have enjoyed the bacon squares (unlike bacon bars, many of which returned to earth uneaten).
As they neared the end of the 11-day mission, Walt Cunningham reported to Capcom Bill Pogue, “Happiness is a package of bacon squares on day 10.” Subsequent Apollo missions all traveled with significant amounts of bacon squares. But bacon isn’t such a staple on the International Space Station these days. Popular Science notes, “Today on the ISS, the closest thing astronauts have is a freeze-dried sausage pattie they rehydrate with hot water.”
Next: Here’s one food that astronauts don’t eat anymore.
1. One food that astronauts don’t eat anymore: freeze-dried ice cream
Many of us have had the experience of buying “astronaut ice cream” at a museum gift shop. But NASA reports that though some astronauts did consume this dessert in space, it no longer gets sent to the International Space Station. According to Time, “The famous freeze-dried ice cream was created on request for an Apollo 7 crew member, but the astronauts disliked it so much that it has never been used again.”
As Vice puts it, so-called astronaut ice cream tastes “chalky and crumbly, feels like nails on a chalkboard when you bite down, and leaves behind an uneasy film on your tongue. And oddly enough, it only seems to manifest in Neapolitan flavor.” We don’t really blame astronauts for saying thanks but no thanks to this dessert.
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