The Evolution of Space Food

For nearly seventy five years, mankind has walked among the stars. For nearly seventy five years, mankind has eaten among the stars.

When the Soviet Union’s Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space, he subsequently had to eat the first meal in space. The food he took along and ate was two servings of pureed meat and a serving of chocolate sauce. All of these foods were, of course, provided in the form of paste that he had to squeeze from tubes, much like toothpaste.

“That sounds very distasteful,” said sophomore Zoë Semersky.

The early Mercury astronauts, on the other hand, had to eat freeze-dried food in a powdered form as well as bite-sized cubes. According to reports, they did not enjoy attempting to rehydrate and eat.

Eventually, the tubes of food goo became obsolete and the range of items became food that people typically enjoy on Earth.

Project Gemini in the 1960s vastly improved the freeze-drying methods for storing food. This lead to foods like shrimp cocktails, toast, chicken and vegetables, and pudding.

The food options expanded even further for the Apollo astronauts. With the new availability of hot water made rehydrating the freeze-dried foods easier and produced a much more edible result. The ‘“spoon bowl” also allowed more normal eating practices. The food sent into space in special plastic zip-closure containers and its moisture allowed it to stick to spoons.

Today’s space missions typically eat almost exclusively the same food as the military’s “Meals, Ready to Eat” kits or the room-temperature tuna pouches that anyone can buy  at the grocery story. Dehydrated foods are also still used along with foods that are thermostabilized or irradiated and can be served right out of the package: heat and eat.

There are dozens of possible menu items available, ranging from meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy to coconut cream pie. Today, anything that can be maintained at room temperature can be brought and eaten on board a spacecraft including pasta, fruit and other popular dishes from home.