Space food: NASA’s free ebook illustrates what astronauts eat
NASA’s finally teaching us about space food in a way that doesn’t involve us eating that gross freeze-dried Neapolitan ice cream from the Smithsonian. The agency’s new ebook, “Space Nutrition,” is targeted toward children (though we think it’s just as fascinating for adults) and is available for free to read through iBooks 2 on the iPad.
The book details what astronauts eat, from the first space missions to today, as well as how people’s nutrition needs change in space. The text is accompanied by fun illustrations, plus several built-in videos and photo galleries.
While you might picture astronauts living off something like Go-Gurt, the fact is that none of NASA’s space grub is served in tubes anymore. Today, astronauts can choose from 300 different foods, all of which are either rehydratable (just needs water to be made edible, such as hot cocoa packets), thermostabilized (heated to high temperatures and packaged in cans or closed pouches, such as canned ravioli and soups) or vacuum-sealed in natural form.
Typical Earthling food can be problematic in a spacecraft: Crumbs can cause crises, there’s no garbage man to carry away your trash, and food has to last for a ridiculously long time — at least nine months for food in the international space station and up to five years for Mars missions.
Crumbs become serious hazards since they could float into someone’s eye or nose, get stuck in equipment or clog air vents, so special packaging has been developed to prevent such problems. The packaging also has to be extremely compressible in order to keep the spacecraft’s trash to a minimum.
While McDonald’s burgers are rumored to last ages without decomposing, NASA thankfully aims to supply its space explorers with nutritious food to keep them healthy, which is difficult because nutritious food tends to lose nutrients (and taste!) over long periods of time. In order to greatly increase their shelf lives, some space foods are packaged and exposed to a harmless source of radiation that destroys any mold or bacteria, making it safe to eat for a long time.
The Space Food Systems Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center even invented a tortilla that maintains its flavor for almost a year. Apparently, astronauts stick to tortillas instead of bread because making a sandwich requires a lot of work when you don’t have gravity holding down one slice of bread while you spread mustard on the other one.
The book explains that scientists are still searching for solutions to other nutrition issues, like low vitamin D levels (astronauts don’t get any sun exposure) and bone loss, which is further complicated by the fact that the body’s ability to absorb calcium decreases in space.
Other fun facts we learned from NASA:
- The most popular space food among astronauts tends to be shrimp cocktail.
- Some astronauts report liking spicier foods in space.
- The Apollo 11 crew was actually able to eat a package of turkey and gravy on Christmas Day 1968.
Learn even more — or, if you’re a teacher, teach your students — about the history of space food, its nutritional and practical requirements, and how NASA determines what foods to send up with its astronauts; go to iTunes or your iPad’s iBooks store and download the ebook for free!