Eating in space is a unique challenge, while the mechanisms of eating food in space remain the same. The variety of food available in space is scarce and you only get to eat what you take with you, just like a camping trip to the woods. Consuming food on earth is pretty easy and gravity makes things like liquids much easier to consume but in a low gravity environment all that changes. Since handling food in space is much harder, Astronauts have to change their dietary regimes and consume regular food for example say mac and cheese in a completely different format.
Since its not possible to cook an actual meal in space, NASA sends pre-packaged and pre-cooked food on all space missions for its astronauts to consume. The food is usually freeze dried or thermally stabilized so that it does not loose its texture and remains edible for longer periods and it also become much easier to handle in zero gravity. It also means typical food on a space mission can be considered edible and safe to consume for over 5 years or more. Proteins such as meats are exposed to radiation before they are put on board the shuttle to give them a longer shelf life too.It also makes the food easier to consume in zero gravity and also takes alot less space in terms of storage.
So in reality there isn’t really any lack of food in space, space missions take everything with them. This includes meals like steak and vegetables, stews, pot roast and more. The only difference is that all of this food is dry or in liquid format which makes its hard to consume on a daily basis since the Astronauts can not smell the food and only experience minimal taste. For further insights we interviewed NASA astronaut Bob Springer who explains the truly unique food regime and his experience of eating in space. Springer says that all the normal things we do such as eating, swallowing, digesting and even eliminating in space are all the same as they would be on earth but key unique difference is really when it comes down to the food itself which over time does take its toll on the Astronauts as it doesn’t look or taste anything like it would on earth and in most cases can’t be cooked or heated at convenience like we would on earth.
Learn more about getting to space with TIMEZ5 and NASA Astronaut Bob Springer in our video series. Stay tuned for our next episode on Hygeine in space which will be released on March 29th.