Ever wondered what do astronauts eat during their stay in space?? They usually decide their whole menu five months prior to their voyage which is thoroughly checked by the dieticians to ensure a balanced diet. Space food is the type of food which is processed especially to be eaten in space by the astronauts.
The food flown in space is well researched and developed in the Food Systems engineering Facility at NASA Johnson Space centre where it is tested for its nutrition value, how well it freezes, its storage, packaging and taste.
Types of space food:
Space food can be divided into eight categories
- Rehydratable food:
Water present in foods is dehydrated using different techniques (mainly freeze drying) which makes their storage easy. The foods can be easily rehydrated before consumption.
- Thermostabilized food:
They are processed to be stored at room temperature done usually in cans. Foods like fruits, fish are generally thermostabilized.
- Intermediate moisture food (IMF):
They can be easily consumed without any prior preparation. Enough water is removed from the food to make it shelf stable and maintain soft texture. Foods like pears, peaches, beef comes under IMF category.
- Natural Form food:
They are ready to eat and are packed in flexible packaging. e.g., nuts, granola bar.
- Irradiated food:
The only irradiated food being used are beef steak and smoked turkey. These are packed in flexible foil pouches and irradiated to be kept at room temperature.
- Frozen foods:
These are quick frozen to prevent large crystal formation. Quick freezing help retain the freshness and texture of the food. Some of the foods that are frozen include quiches, chicken pot pie and casseroles.
- Fresh food:
Foods like apple, banana are neither processed nor artificially preserved.
- Refrigerated food:
They require cold temperature to prevent spoilage. e.g. cream cheese, sour cream.
In a space shuttle, food is prepared in the gallery installed in the orbiter middeck which contains a water dispenser and an oven. A meal tray is used as a dinner place which can be attached to the wall or the astronaut’s lap by a strap. The cutlery consists of a knife, a fork, a spoon and a pair of scissors to open the food packages.
At the International Space Station (ISS), the fuel that provide the electrical power to the space shuttle generates water as a by-product which can be utilised for drinking and food preparation. Most of the food produced for ISS is either frozen, refrigerated or thermostabilized. For the ISS, astronauts are required to choose a 30-day flight menu. The ISS beverage package is made from a foil and plastic laminate to provide for a longer shelf life which is similar to that of space shuttle.
Microgravity affects the packaging of the food along with the way the food is eaten. Most of the foods are packed with liquid which holds the food together and cling themselves freed from the container due to cohesion. Special straws are used for drinking beverages which have clamps to prevent the flow due to surface tension and capillary action when not being used.
Due to the development of new techniques and practices, the food menu for astronauts is becoming vast every day. From preparing food for a few days voyage to preparing food for voyages that could go on for months, the space food has significantly developed.
With the increasing list of space food items, the problem of orbital debris also rises. Methods to dispose off the garbage in outer space is matter of concern for the scientists. Currently measures are being taken to reduce the garbage produced in outer space by giving shelled nuts, peeled fruits, concentrated or powdered juices, etc. to the astronauts.
Also, Interested in preparation of vegan mac n cheese, then check out the recipe.