No one delivers pizza in space. It’s sad but true. If you want to grow up to be an astronaut someday, don’t do it for the fancy meals!

Eating in space presents some unique challenges for astronauts. Why? There’s no gravity! If you let go of a piece of food, it will float off and drift around your space vehicle.

What about a cup of water? Forget it! Water won’t stay in a cup. It, too, will float out and hang in the air.

To allow astronauts to stay in space for days or weeks at a time, scientists had to invent special ways of packaging and eating foods in space. The first such space foods were soft foods (kind of like baby food!) packaged in tubes like toothpaste.

For example, John Glenn became the first U.S. astronaut to eat in space when he ate applesauce from an aluminum tube during a 1962 Mercury space mission. He had to squeeze the food into his mouth.

If that doesn’t sound very appetizing to you, you’re not alone. Astronauts weren’t crazy about it either. Eventually, scientists developed better, tastier foods that were easier to eat.

For example, freeze-drying was a technique that was developed. Food was cooked, quickly frozen and then dehydrated (had the water taken out) in a special vacuum chamber. Freeze-dried food didn’t need to be refrigerated and would last a long time.

To make most freeze-dried foods, astronauts squeeze water into the food packages and then eat the food after it absorbs the water. Astronauts can use hot water to make hot meals that are tasty and nutritious.

Some freeze-dried foods, like fruit, can be eaten dry. In fact, you may eat astronaut food from time to time without realizing it. Today, many breakfast cereals include freeze-dried fruits, like strawberries, that are delicious and add color and flavor.

Astronauts flying modern space shuttle missions now eat many of the same foods they eat on Earth. Food still needs to be dehydrated or prepared in special ways, but space shuttles now have full kitchens with hot water and an oven.

Astronauts can also use condiments, like ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise, in packets to add flavor. Salt and pepper can be used, too, but they have to be used in a liquid form because otherwise the grains would just float away!

Drinks are also dehydrated and kept in powder form in special pouches. The pouches have built-in straws or special nozzles that let astronauts drink straight from the pouch since gravity makes drinking from a cup a messy idea.

To make sure their food doesn’t float off, astronauts attach their food containers and utensils to special trays with Velcro fasteners. The trays also fasten to their laps, so they can enjoy a meal while sitting down.

Nutritionists plan astronaut meals to make sure they get all of the nutrients and vitamins they need to perform their important work in space. Some astronauts begin to experience digestive problems after they’ve been in space a long time.

Experts believe these problems may be caused by a decrease in the number of “good” bacteria in astronauts’ bodies. A group of high school students in Jefferson County, Kentucky, is going to help researchers learn more about this issue when the students’ experiment flies into outer space on the space shuttle Endeavour.

As part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, the students designed an experiment to test the effect of microgravity (gravity in space) on Lactobacillus GG, which is a probiotic (“good” bacteria that aids in digestion) that could help future astronauts stay healthier in space.

In total, there are 16 experiments on Endeavour that were designed by students. This is only appropriate since Endeavour is the only space shuttle named by children. Elementary and secondary students competed in a national shuttle-naming competition in 1988.

The winning name — Endeavour — was based on an 18th-century British exploring vessel. The name has caused a bit of confusion at times, though.

Many people want to spell it “Endeavor” since that’s the American spelling of the word. The space shuttle, however, uses the British spelling with a “u” because that’s how its namesake was spelled.

 

22 Join the Discussion

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  1. hey wonderopolis.

    You know I was always curious on what they eat. My family though once went to a science museum named Cosi and went into an exhibit about astronauts. They showed us some of their food. It was really cool! :)

    On the other hand it does not sound so tasty.

    • Hi, Torey/MC! Chefs and scientists are working hard to find better (tastier) ways to feed those brave astronauts! We think it would be fun to eat space food for a day or two to see what it is like! :-)

  2. We love to check out your website and always learn something new! Sometimes the video that you share leaves us a bit confused… the video today was interesting and it was related to the topic but we wonder why there wasn’t a video of astronauts eating so we could have a clearer understanding of what it’s like (since sometimes just reading about it isn’t enough.) We found this video that we thought was great so you’ll know what we think would have been a better choice:
    http://videos.howstuffworks.com/nasa/2206-what-is-eating-in-space-like-video.htm

    We don’t want to offend you at all, we just wanted to let you know. :)Ms. Gannon’s Third Graders at LdV

    • Hello from Wonderopolis, Ms. Gannon’s Third Graders at LdV! Thanks so much for your awesome comment! We love hearing from our Wonder Friends!

      We try to pick the very best videos to accompany each Wonder of the Day. Sometimes those videos explain the Wonder in a different way, and sometimes they are meant to encourage further thinking and Wondering beyond the story of each Wonder! We chose to feature the amazing high school students from Jefferson County, Kentucky, in the video for today’s Wonder because their experiment is going to fly into space with the shuttle Endeavour astronauts! The data collected from their experiment will help future space travelers eat much healthier and safer! :-)

  3. Hey Wonderopolis!
    Our librarian at our school, Mr. Prosser, was talking about how you can buy that freeze dried ice cream and stuff that’s space food. He said that astronauts don’t really take the ice cream stuff into space! I had no idea! :)

    P.S. I really like the pictures of space food. It looks kinda gross! :)

    • Hi, Abby/M.C! We think getting to try space food would be FUN! We’ve heard about space ice cream, too…wonder if they have space banana splits? :-)

  4. It’s very interesting, and disgusting to know what astronauts eat. I’m wondering how they freeze the food and what temperature is it frozen at. It would be the best experience anyone could ever see to go up into space, the only problem is that you have to eat that disgusting food!!

    I think that tomorrow’s wonder is going to be about mustard because many people like it on their hot dogs, and it is usually yellow. I can’t wait to see and read about mustard tomorrow! :)

    • Thanks for your comment today, Meredith/MC! We think some of that space food would look and taste really yummy if you were an astronaut who had been in space for a long time! We think space spaghetti and meatballs would be delicious! :-)

  5. It’s interesting to know the details about the food habits of the astronaut. Until now, I thought they had food in the form of capsules/tablets :)

    -elango

    • We’re glad you learned something new about astronaut eating habits from this Wonder of the Day®, Elango! Thank you so much for visiting Wonderopolis and also for leaving us another AWESOME comment! You’re a GREAT Wonder Friend! :-)

  6. I think it would be so cool if, while eating your cheerios, they completely float out of your lap! At this science place, they have an exhibit on astronauts. They showed the typical bathroom, fridge and bedroom on a space ship. After looking at the space food, I don’t think I will ever be an astronaut. I don’t think I would ever want to eat food that has had all the liquid sucked right out of it. But, of course, being an astronaut must have some pluses. Like, you get to see the earth with your own eyes and you get to actually be in space! So, I think it would be pretty cool to get to eat your food while floating, but I don’t know about the food they will be serving.

    • WOW! What an AWESOME comment, Allison! You really thought through what it must be like to be an astronaut! Even though they have to make special food for astronauts, we’re sure most of it tastes great! Plus, as you know, there are no grocery stores in space (yet), so they have to take all the water out of the food and package it a special way so they can fit more of it onto the space craft for the trip! Thank you for visiting this Wonder today! :-)

    • We thought that was really neat to learn about, too, Chloe! Thanks for hanging out in Wonderopolis with us today and leaving us a comment to let us know you were here! :-)

    • We’re glad you think so, Maddie! We think it’s FUN to WONDER about the cool things astronauts eat in space! :-)

    • Thanks for sharing how you felt after you explored this Wonder of the Day®, Rithik! We think it was FUN to learn about all the cool foods astronauts take with them into space and enjoy at mealtime! :-)

    • We’re so happy that you enjoyed our Wonder about astronauts, Shahad! We Wonder if you would like to go up to space in the future? Perhaps you’ll be an astronaut! :)

    • Well thank you so much, Wonder Friend Will! We are so glad to know that you are here today! We Wonder if you and your classmates read the Wonders out loud, or if you see them up on the board? Here at Wonderopolis, we often take turns reading the Wonders aloud with our friends! We hope you have an ou-of-this-world awesome day! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What do astronauts eat in space?
  • How are freeze-dried foods made?
  • How did the space shuttle Endeavour get its name?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

All over the world, children of different cultures and nationalities stare at the sky and wonder. Their imaginations are as limitless as the universe itself.

The wonders of outer space give families the perfect opportunity to explore the world beyond Earth. Wonderopolis has compiled some helpful tips for families who want to explore Space: The Final Frontier together.

Ready for a close-up look at astronaut food? Check out the Interactive Space Food Tray.

What do you think? Does the food look good to you? Would you be willing to give up some of your favorite foods for a short while for the chance to go to outer space?

As you sit down for your next meal with your family, talk about how your meal is different from what astronauts eat. Would your meal taste different in space?

Would what you’re eating be easy or hard to eat in space? Why? Have fun comparing your dinner table to an astronaut’s food tray!

 

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