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What astronauts can and can’t eat in space

Eating in space isn’t always a pleasure for astronauts. Here’s a list of the foods they’re allowed to eat and those they’re not.

Though eating is a primary necessity for astronauts, it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a pleasure. The first meals eaten in space were flavourless, odourless and lacked consistency. But times have changed, and a healthy, balanced, and tasty diet is essential for astronauts to go through long periods at the International Space Station, without negative impacts on their organism.

John Glenn entra nella capsula Friendship 7. © NASA/Getty Images
John Glenn boarding the space capsule Friendship 7 © NASA/Getty Images

It was February, 20 1960 when US astronaut John Glenn became the first man to eat anything in space on board the space shuttle Friendship 7: applesauce in tubes, sugar cubes and water. Such limited menu wasn’t linked to the shortness of flight (less than 5 hour), but it was due to the fear that food could stop in the astronaut’s throat because of the absence of gravity. Glenn, fortunately, didn’t choke and demonstrated that eating in space was possible.

In spite of their glorious missions, astronauts had for long to settle for food. During the Mercury, Gemini, and some of the Apollo missions, the menu was mainly made of food squeezed in tubes (similar to baby food) and bite-sized cubes coated with gelatine.

Today, the International Spatial Station offers better meals. Of course, it’s not like eating at The Ritz, but astronauts can’t complain as they enjoy a rather pretty view of the Earth from space.

8 foods astronauts can eat

Fresh fruit and vegetables are rare in space. So, astronauts must make do with a variety of canned and dehydrated foods. But astronauts, too, have their favourites and have some benefits for special occasions.

Loren Shriver mentre mangia dei dolciumi.
Loren Shriver eating chocolate covered nuts

Chocolate-covered nuts

It’s not clear if astronauts love more eating chocolate-covered nuts or make them fly towards their mouth, playing with the absence of gravity.

Yogurt

During long space missions with no gravity, bone mass can decrease by up to 20 per cent. Foods rich in calcium like yogurt are thus essential. Astronauts can choose flavours like blueberry, raspberry, peach and strawberry.

Le piadine possono essere consumate in orbita.
Astronauts can eat wraps in space

Tortillas and wraps

They’re long-life products and make little crumbs. Tortillas are the official bread of spatial programmes and the most requested fillings are peanut butter and jam.

Spicy sauce

In space, the sense of taste is reduced due to fluid redistribution in the body. For this, a spicy sauce can reactivate taste buds.

Story Musgrave durente una passeggiata spaziale. Probabilmente stava pensando al suo cibo preferito: i gamberetti. © NASA via Getty Image
Story Musgrave walking in space. He was probably thinking about his favourite food: shrimps © NASA via Getty Image

Shrimps

These crustaceans, once dehydrated and covered with a spicy sauce, are the most requested package food. Space veteran Story Musgrave used to eat them at every meal, including for breakfast.

Japanese food

The recent creation of Japan’s space module not only has enriched the spatial station with a new scientific laboratory, but has also filled the pantry with new foods, from negima and okonomiyaki to tofu and udon.

2015: Samantha Cristoforetti a bordo della Iss con una porzione di cibo confezionato da Argotec con ingredienti Slow Food. Sta svolgendo un ambizioso programma per la nutrizione e la salute nello spazio e sulla Terra, per la prima volta sulla Iss c'è una cambusa e Cristoforetti sta studiando il 'cooking on orbit', prepara i suoi menù, combinan i diversi alimenti preparati per la missione Futura dell'Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (Nasa)
Samantha Cristoforetti on board the ISS with a portion of food made by Argotec with Slow Food ingredients

Lentil soup

Along with coffee capsules, Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti used to bring with her a soup with Slow Food legumes made by Agrotec, Italian company that produces food for European astronauts. It’s a ready-to-eat soup that combines taste with nutrients needed to fight physiological changes linked to long periods in space.

Surprise meals

In June 2008 astronauts of the ISS were given cans that read “tasty snacks”. Mystery adds taste to life!

8 foods astronauts can’t eat

Crackers

Crackers’ crumbs can be catastrophic despite the presence of air recycling filters. Crumbs float and end up in astronauts’ eyes and respiratory system.

Soda and fizzy drinks

Coca-Cola cans were brought into space in 1985, but astronauts had to struggle with “wet” burps. With no gravity, it only takes a small quantity of gas in the stomach to turn it into a water pistol!

Dehydrated ice-cream

Despite it is well known and sold in spatial museums, dehydrated ice-cream was brought into space only once in 1968 on board Apollo 7. In space, it looks like a hard, crumbly candyfloss.

Pizza

Its consistency is impossible to be maintained in space, resulting in a gummy food. For this, NASA has never sent pizza into space shuttles.

Chips

Like space ice-cream and crackers, chips are too friable to be eaten without contaminating the air in the shuttle.

Fish

Along with some problems in terms of conserving fish products, cooking fish in space was something rather smelly.

Corn beef sandwich

The Gemini III mission in 1965 will be remembered as the first mission to smuggle food into space. Pilot John Young hid a corn beef sandwich in his suit. When NASA found it out, pandemonium erupted.

Brussels sprouts

For the joy of children, Brussels sprouts are the least requested food in space.

How astronauts eat – in picture

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