DEC 12, 2022 6:00 AM PST

The Evolution of Astronaut Food

Canadian Space Agency Astronaut, Chris Hadfield, onboard the International Space Station during Expedition 34. (Credit: NASA)

We all marvel at human beings being able to leave the confines of Earth, even if they leave only for a short time. But one of the biggest questions that get asked about astronauts is what do they eat while up in space? Do they eat food from a tube or the same meals that they have on Earth? As it turns out, much like the technology that has been responsible for sending these brave pioneers into space has evolved since the beginning of the Space Age, the food they eat up there has evolved, as well. Let’s look at this space food evolution and see if the diets of astronauts are the same, or better off, then when the first astronauts were flown into space.

When the Space Age first began, we obviously knew nothing about human space exploration, let alone what kinds of foods the astronauts could eat up there. As a result, the first astronauts to leave the gravitational confines of Earth were forced to eat food from tubes, which included John Glenn and the rest of the Project Mercury astronauts. But as the missions evolved, so did the food. When the Apollo Program started sending astronauts to the Moon, the food provided was both freeze-dried and plentiful in its menu selection. Skylab had its own dining room table and even food trays so the astronauts could (sort of) sit and enjoy their meal. By the time the Space Shuttle took flight, the astronaut meals started to resemble those of Earth, allowing the astronauts to build their own menu and choose from as many as 74 foods and 20 drinks.

Today, astronauts aboard the International Space Station get to eat foods that are almost identical to what they ate on Earth, which includes a very healthy diets of fruits and vegetables, and they get to choose from over a hundred items to put on their menu. This includes the standard three meals per day and even snacks, allowing for at least 2500 calories per day. These healthier choices are not just to maintain their own personal health, but to help their bodies cope with the prolonged exposure to microgravity, which will only get longer the further we venture out into space?

What will astronauts on the Moon and Mars eat? Only time will tell, and this is why we science!

Sources: HowStuffWorks, Royal Museums Greenwich

As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Laurence Tognetti is a six-year USAF Veteran who earned both a BSc and MSc from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Laurence is extremely passionate about outer space and science communication, and is the author of “Outer Solar System Moons: Your Personal 3D Journey”.
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