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 food!
Eating in space can be a real challenge. Why? There’s not enough gravity! If you let go of a French fry, it will float off and drift around your spaceship! Good luck holding onto your dinner. How about a cup of water? Forget it! Water won’t stay in a cup. It, too, will float through the air.
So how do astronauts stay in space for days or weeks at a time? Scientists have come up with special ways of packaging and eating foods in space. The first space foods were soft foods (kind of like baby food!) packaged in tubes like toothpaste.
John Glenn became the first U.S. astronaut to eat in space in 1962. He ate applesauce from an aluminum tube during a Mercury mission. He had to squeeze the food into his mouth.
If that doesn’t sound very good to you, you’re not alone. Astronauts weren’t crazy about it, either. Eventually, scientists found ways to make better, tastier space foods. They were also easier to eat!
Freeze-drying is one technique they use. In this method, food is quickly frozen and dehydrated after it’s cooked. Freeze-dried food doesn’t need to be refrigerated and lasts a long time.
To eat freeze-dried food, astronauts squeeze water into the food packages. After the food absorbs the water, it’s ready to eat. 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.
Astronauts today eat many of the same foods they eat on Earth. Food is still dehydrated or prepared in special ways. But space shuttles now have full kitchens with hot water and an oven.
Astronauts can also use condiments. They use ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise packets to add flavor. They can add salt and pepper, too. However, these spices have to be in a liquid form. Otherwise, the grains would just float away!
Drinks also have to be dehydrated. They’re kept in powder form in special pouches. The pouches have built-in straws or special nozzles. That way, astronauts can drink straight from the pouch after water is added.
To make sure their food doesn’t float off, astronauts use Velcro fasteners. Their trays fasten to their laps, so they can enjoy a meal while sitting down.
Nutritionists plan astronaut meals to make sure they get all the nutrients and vitamins they need. Still, some astronauts 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. The students’ experiment will fly into outer space on the space shuttle Endeavour.
As part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, the students planned an experiment to test the effect of microgravity on Lactobacillus GG. That’s a probiotic that could help future astronauts stay healthier in space.
In total, 16 student-designed experiments will be done on Endeavour. This is appropriate, since Endeavour is the only space shuttle named by children. Students competed in a national shuttle-naming competition in 1988.
The winning name — Endeavour — was based on an 18th-century British ship. 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 the earlier ship’s name was spelled.
Do you have a favorite food you’d want to take with you to space? What do you think dehydrated pizza would look like? How about chicken nuggets? Mashed potatoes? Space food may not always look all that tasty. But it gives astronauts the nutrients they need to do their jobs well!
Standards: NGSS.LS1.C, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.1