FOOD IN SPACE
Did you know, that bringing a loaf of bred onto a space travelling aircraft may well be the last thing you’ve ever done? Many laws that seem natural to us here on Earth don’t mean a thing in the dark area of outer space.
My essay is based mostly on the fact of what food it is possible to bring, store and consume in space. My research was not only limited to food we produce on Earth but also looked into alternative solutions of producing food in outer space. The following would definitely be necessary on long lasting journeys in space or on attempts on colonizing other planets in the distant future. I’ve taken a closer look at the menus of today’s astronauts and the astronauts of the past and studied their nutritional value. There have been drastic changes in this area of space traveling and later on you will find it obvious that the astronauts of today are living in much greater comfort than those in the past. Commercialization of space food is also a theme I’ve looked into in my research, although we don’t really have that much experience with it in Slovenia.
Food is without a doubt a crucial factor in every mission in outer space involving man driven machines.
Not only does it provide the nutritional needs of every human being, but also the wrong choice of food to bring on a trip too space could easily cost the astronauts their lives. To state an example, the Crew of Gemini III in 1965, a NASA organized flight, brought with them unauthorized a corned beef sandwich. They were not greatly punished for the act, but the flying crumbs of bread in outer space posed a potential threat to the crew, since they could easily interfere with their respiration organs. To prevent similar incidents from happening NASA took special care of what astronauts brought with them on later missions. But NASA did not only take special care of what the astronauts brought with them, they also started investing large sums of money into developing food more appropriate for consuming in outer space.
Since the first man flew out of the Earths orbit, people have been experimenting with food on zero gravity, as there are far too many things that could go wrong.
The first complication researchers ran on, was the fact if it would even be possible to swallow bite sized food in outer space, due to the lack of gravity force. Their worries soon turned out to be unnecessary, as John Glenn, the first American to eat anything in space, experienced no difficulties whatsoever. The only thing that did bother him though was the fact already mentioned, that no matter how big the chunk of food was, it would soon turn into smaller crumbs and present a potential threat. Astronauts that followed on later missions were equipped with food more appropriate for space conditions, but found it to be rather unappetizing since it was mostly packed in toothpaste like tubes, which they later had to suck through a straw, this being the consequence of the fact that they cold not remove their helmets for safety reasons. “There were different challenges along the way. Certainly the food shortage was unpleasant.” (Leroy Chiao) This was another problem space researchers ran on – maintaining a food supply that would last for several days, the average duration of a space flight. As stated by Leroy Chiao, a Chinese-American NASA engineer in 1994 – 2005, falling short of food in outer space could show itself as quite unpleasant, as the astronauts were burning more than the average 2000 calories a day, due to their stressful schedule. In order to prevent such thing from happening space companies started packing higher amounts of nutritional food into the shuttle. And thanks to the advance in technology, astronauts were soon able to bring dehydrated types of meals with them, which they hydrated later on board. The Apollo projects (1968 – 1975) were the first programs with hot water available onboard, and therefore had a much easier way of preparing their meals in a much more tasty way than their ancestors. Astronauts are also able to bring fresh fruits with them, which they have to eat in a mater of days to prevent them from rotting.
The advancement in food technology was without a doubt necessary for longer and more demanding space flights.
And the technology of packing and storing types of food in space has come a long way since the toothpaste like tubes that make you sick to your stomach. To be honest, astronauts these days are enjoying the luxury and comfort some of us only dream of. A few weeks before every flight astronauts get the opportunity to state any demands or special wishes that they may have in the area of food. Those may include specialties like candy or even ice cream. Some countries have also spent millions of dollars in developing a space suitable version of their national dishes. China and Korea are no exceptions in this case, and both had later in the process introduced their space meals to the global market.
As I have already mentioned, the packing of the food for consumption in space needs to meet a long list of demands. It needs to be light-weight, easy to dispose, and help in the process of preparing the food. It is also demanded that the instructions of how to prepare the meal are written in both English and Russian on the label. There are many different types of packing food for space programs and the popularity of those varies from country to country. Russia seems to be more attracted towards storing their food in tins and cans, which are later opened with an average tin opener. Meanwhile America stores most of its food in rehydratable containers. In both cases the food is consumed with the help of a spoon or a fork, so it is quite similar to the meals we have on Earth. The interesting part here is that there is a magnet needed in order to hold the spoon or fork in place, so that it doesn’t fly away in zero gravity. There are also types of food that don’t need to be specially processed in order to be suitable for space travel. Foods such as nuts, granola bars and cookies are classified as natural form foods. They are packed in air tight plastic bags, together with scissors which are used for cutting the bag open.
I’ve mentioned before, that China and Korea presented their national space dishes to the global market. The process of commercializing space processed meals has become a major source of income for space research companies.
Most of these companies have opened an entire department that is responsible for presenting new meals to the public as soon as they are researched. Space ice cream is one of such meals popular in the lines of astronauts and average consumers. Although I’ve newer been in contact with this phenomenon, I hear it’s supposed to be quite delicious. So, researching food suitable for space travel is not only important for the astronauts’ nutritional need, but also has a positive effect on the companies finances.
Although all these ways of storing food in space are very advanced and needed hours and hours of engineering, they will not show themselves as very practical in the upcoming days of longer journeys into space. NASA is aware of this fact, and has dedicated special sections of their facilities to the research on alternative solutions of producing food on the shuttle itself. Such ways of course include growing plants in specially designed gardens, and harvesting them at the appropriate time. The biggest obstacle in this area of research could prove to be the protein supply of the shuttle crew, since it would be difficult taking care of a heard of cows onboard. There are of course plant based proteins astronauts could consume, but sooner or later they would be experiencing a lack of essential amino acids that the body can not produce itself or get from plants.
If we take all these things into account it may still take a while until long distance traveling or colonizing other planets is made a reality. Nevertheless mankind will continue researching, developing, and testing out new, more appropriate ways of dinning in outer space, as it has since the day we left the safe surrounding of our atmosphere. Looking back at the past and the changes the present has brought us in this area of work, who knows what we can achieve in the future.