How do Astronauts Eat in Space

The dietary practices and methods for food preparation, especially on board NASA’s Space Shuttles would remind the average person of a camping trip. Everything from the preparations to the packaging and storing are crucial. Food needs to be properly packaged and stowed to prevent spoilage, but also to ensure that it doesn’t weigh too much or take up too much space, and of course, most importantly, it needs to taste good.

The diet of an astronaut in space has come a long way from what it was in the earlier days. On some of the earliest space flights, the astronauts ate food that was pureed and packaged in tubes. The tubes were very much like the typical toothpaste tube. All they had to do was squeeze the contents of the tube right into their mouths.

The next phase of astronaut food consisted of food that was cut into cubes and covered with a coating to prevent crumbs from forming. Eliminating crumbs was crucial because in zero gravity, particles like that can clog the ventilation system, contaminate equipment, or fly in an astronauts eyes, nose or mouth. Everything an astronaut would eat came in the form of cubes that were about the size of a crouton.

Things have come a very long way from the days of pureed food in toothpaste tubes and anti crumb coated cubes of food. Now, astronauts are free to choose what they want to eat within a range of things that NASA deems easy to accomodate. Although astronauts have some flexibility in the choice of foods they eat on their missions, a dietitian and nutritionist are dispatched to ensure that all of the astronauts are getting the proper amount of vitamins and minerals.

A large man would typically require 3200 calories of food a day, whereas a small woman would only require about 1900 calories. All Shuttle vehicles carry enough food for every astronaut to eat three well balanced and nutritious meals a day and any snacks the astronauts may wish to eat while in space.

The calories count for an astronaut’s daily food intake may seem extreme to those of us on earth, but one needs to remember that even though they are in a weightless environment, their daily work out regime on the Space Station if at least 4 times as long as what the average person does on earth. In addition, because of the potential for bone and muscle loss, they must do weight bearing exercise, aerobic exercise and resistance training on a daily basis. On space shuttle flights, astronauts work out intensively as well.

The foods that astronauts eat varies and they can choose ranges from anything such as seafood, chicken or beef, to spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, fruit, nuts, candy, brownies or even peanut butter. One of the most popular things that astronauts choose is shrimp cocktail. They can choose from a variety of drinks such as real orange juice, fruit punches, lemonade, tea or coffee.

They might even get raw carrot or celery sticks, but since there is no refrigerator on space, all food must be able to last without refrigeration. Milk or cream that might be used for cereal, coffee or tea comes in powdered form and is mixed with water or in the beverage itself.

There are various ways through which astronauts might prepare their food in space. All Space Shuttles and the International Space Station are equipped with galley type kitchens that have hot and warm water along with ovens to heat the food in.

Much of the food that astronauts get is freeze dried. Since the Shuttle has the capability of making its own water, (by mixing liquid oxygen and hydrogen from the vehicle’s fuel cells,) reconstituting the food is not a problem. Freeze dried food is ideal because it takes up so little weight, it is packaged in small and flexible enough packages to be easy to store, and because it prevents the packages from flying everywhere.

Condiments such as ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise are available, but salt and pepper are only furnished in liquid form. To use the salt or pepper, the astronaut must put a drop of salt or pepper into their food and stir it. That will bring about the flavor. Powdered salt and pepper cannot be used because of the potential of flying particles to contaminate equipment, clog the ventilation system or even fly into an astronaut’s eyes or nose.

Trays are furnished for astronauts to eat on. Magnets are used for silverware and other things are held in place with Velcro. Each tray has a thigh strap that the astronaut uses to secure the tray because there is no table. All food is either served warm, at room temperature or hot.

Inside every Space Shuttle, there is a trash compactor, and that is where the astronauts put their packaging after they finish eating. All packaging must be compacted so that it takes up less space and weighs less. It is then disposed of when the astronauts return to Earth.

Food on board the Space Shuttles has certainly changed from what it once was. Thankfully, the astronauts don’t ever have to worry about going hungry. It must be kind of fun to try to keep M&M’s or nuts from flying away before you can actually eat them or to have to catch a carrot stick before it flies away.