Everything you wanna know about the International Space Station Part 1

How Do Astronauts Eat on the International Space Station?

Have you ever wondered how astronauts manage to eat in space? You can’t just stroll over to the fridge and grab a snack. And there most certainly isn’t UberEats, although that would be a cool idea for when we colonize the Mars (we’re looking at you, Elon Musk). In the early years of space travel, astronauts would use straws to suck dehydrated, baby-food-like paste out of tubes. Yuck. Now, NASA tries to make the food astronauts eat as much like home cooked meals as possible. In comparison to baby food mush, modern space food might as well be from a Michelin star restaurant.  

How is food prepared in space?

Astronauts have about 250 food options to choose from. Most food portions weight in at around 1 pound per serving; however, because it costs NASA $10,000 to blast a pound of food into space, NASA cuts down on costs by freeze-drying meals and drinks. The food is prepared normally and then quickly frozen and then dehydrated in a special vacuum chamber that reduces its weight by 97 percent. After they have been freeze-dried, each portion weighs one ounce and costs just $660 to transport. Astronauts add water to the freeze-dried foods from a rehydration station and then heat the food in a convection oven kept at 160 to 170 degrees Fahrenheit. It takes anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes to rehydrate and heat an astronaut’s meal.  

But what about that whole low-gravity thing?

To combat the nuisance of having to chase down all of your meals through the shuttle, meals are organized in the order that the astronauts will be eating them in shelves protected by nets to prevent them from floating away. Astronauts also attach individual food containers to their food trays with fabric fasteners. The trays are attached to the wall or the astronauts’ lap. To prevent drink spillage, astronauts add water to their beverages to a specially designed tube before drinking it.  

Are there any other ways weightlessness affects the eating habits of astronauts?

Although we don’t actively think about it, our concept of flavor mainly comes from our ability to smell. Without gravity, the aromas produced by the food wafts away before ever reaching the astronaut’s nose. This means that although an astronaut might be eating a warm pasta dish, all they’ll be tasting is flavorless noodles. Living in orbit might be cool, but not being able to taste spaghetti and meatballs for weeks on end might put a damper on the experience. Check back in with us next month when we discuss how astronauts keep their hygiene habits intact in space. While you’re waiting, make sure to download a digital copy of the 2019 Florida’s Space Coast Vacation Planner to help you plan your next rocket launch experience.