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The Station - Wheat for Oxygenliving in space

Space Food History

The food that NASA's early astronauts had to eat in space is a testament to their fortitude. 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. Other Mercury astronauts had to endure bite-sized cubes, freezedried powders, and semiliquids stuffed in aluminum tubes. Most agreed the foods were unappetizing and disliked squeezing the tubes. Moreover, freeze-dried foods were hard to rehydrate and crumbs had to be prevented from fouling instruments.

The astronauts complained and on the Gemini missions eating improved somewhat. The first things to go were the squeeze tubes. Bite-sized cubes were coated with gelatin to reduce crumbling, and the freeze-dried foods were encased in a special plastic container to make reconstituting easier. With improved packaging came improved food quality and menus. Gemini astronauts had such food choices as shrimp cocktail, chicken and vegetables, butterscotch pudding, and apple sauce, and were able to select meal combinations themselves.

By the time of the Apollo program, the quality and variety of food increased even further. Apollo astronauts were first to have hot water, which made rehydrating foods easier and improved the food's taste. These astronauts were also the first to use the "spoon bowl," a plastic container that could be opened and its contents eaten with a spoon .

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The Station - Russian ModulesAlmost Like Eating At Home

During a typical meal in space, a meal tray is used to hold the food containers. The tray can be attached to an astronaut's lap by a strap or attached to a wall. The meal tray becomes the astronaut's dinner plate and enables him or her to choose from several foods at once, just like a meal at home. Without the tray, the contents of one container must be completely consumed before opening another. The tray also holds the food packages in place and keeps them from floating away in the microgravity of space.

Conventional eating utensils are used in space. Astronauts use knife, fork, and spoon. The only unusual eating utensil is a pair of scissors used for cutting open the packages. Following the meal, food containers are discarded in the trash compartment below the mid-deck floor. Eating utensils and food trays are cleaned at the hygiene station with premoistened towelettes.

Crews have reported that the Shuttle food system functions well in space. It consists of familiar, appetizing, well-accepted food items that can be prepared quickly and easily. A full meal for a crew of four can be set up in about 5 minutes. Reconstituting and heating the food takes an additional 20 to 30 minutes, about the time it takes to fix a snack at home, and far less than it takes to cook a complete meal.

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*Click on images for captions
Photo credits for all images: NASA.

Additional materials in this section courtesy of NASA.

 

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