Neil Armstrong could have made this first step for the man to climb on the moon, but it was John Glenn who gave the first sip of apple sauce to humanity.
Until he eats as he climbs the Earth in 1962, NASA scientists were not sure that humans could swallow and digest food when they were in space. Fortunately, he swallowed without gravity. Today’s astronauts sometimes spend several consecutive months on the International Space Station (ISS). They would be very hungry without some sandwiches!
Of course, while the human body is happy to have a meal while traveling 250 km above the Earth, the process of cooking and consuming food is not exactly the same as at home. That’s why NASA scientists are still working hard to perfect astronaut menus. A healthy diet is even more crucial for spaces further away than on the ground, because spending time in space causes loss of muscle and bone mass in your body. NASA needs to find a way to send food into a rocket, keep it for as long as possible, and ensure that it provides the perfect balance of nutrients and prevents astronauts from getting bored!
“Imagine that you try to eat the same food every meal for six months, you can get tired of eating and eating less than necessary to maintain your weight, your health, and your performance – healthy food available to astronauts to take decisions, “said F. Ryan Dowdy, ISS Food Systems Manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
Astronauts have about 200 foods to choose from. According to Dowdy, many options are surprisingly similar to the foods we eat on Earth.
“Whether it’s a macaroni cheesecake or chocolate pudding cake, it’s important for astronauts to remember home when they eat,” he says. “Food can be a significant psychological comfort in the stressful environment of space.”
It’s the unique preparation: food has to be stored for six months before it’s even sent to space, and for weeks or months, once they’re there, NASA has everything designed to last. at least two years. Macaroni and cheese are freeze-dried (which means most of the moisture is removed, which allows it to be stored safely at room temperature), and astronauts add hot water to the space station . The chocolate pudding cake is preserved in the same way as canned food, but NASA puts it in a soft bag so that it takes up less space.
Some foods on Earth are already perfect for zero-gravity consumption. Tortillas, for example, are an excellent alternative to bread: they have a long shelf life, and do not form crumbs that float and become caught in important parts of the boat. Astronauts can also request small amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables every time NASA sends supplies, but most of the time they consume several combinations of extremely durable stored foods.
While NASA is considering the future of spaceflight, with missions to Mars and perhaps even further, the agency needs to design even more sustainable foods. It takes about eight months to arrive on Mars and the astronauts will also have to bring food for the return trip. According to Dowdy, NASA is working to extend the shelf life of its food to about five years, but experiments in the field of space farming are also part of the plan.
ISS astronauts can grow small amounts of lettuce, such as lettuce, but Dowdy says it will take some time before it becomes a sustainable source of calories. He thinks that 3D printed goodies may soon be on the menu. One thing is certain: it will take a lot of scientific knowledge to feed the explorers of the space of the future.