Most people’s experience with space food is limited to the vacuum-packed slabs of freeze-dried Neapolitan ice cream sold in science gift shops.
In fact, “space ice cream” never made its way into space. NASA deemed it too crumbly, a problem to think about when developing food to eat in space as rogue crumbs can cause serious consequences in zero gravity, also called microgravity.
It took 12 years after the first bite was ever consumed in space for ice cream to make its debut in microgravity, according to NASA. The history of space food has been a long and appetizing road.
In the beginning
With the challenge of developing food to eat in microgravity, scientists were faced with basic questions such as could food be digested easily? Or how would it react to extreme pressure and vibrations during launch?
A strict checklist was followed. Food must be crumble-free, lightweight, easy to prepare and consume, long-lasting with no need for refrigeration and nutritious enough to sustain an astronaut throughout their space duties.
The first meal eaten in space was in the spring of 1961 by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. He had pureed meat in a squeezable toothpaste-style tube, followed by a tube of chocolate sauce. The following year, NASA celebrated John Glenn becoming the first American to eat in space, squeezing puréed beef with vegetables from an aluminum tube, among other edible delights.
By the mid-1960s missions were longer, up to two weeks, and eating was less experimental and more for nutritional sustenance. At the same time provisions had to be made with smaller weight and mass constraints. According to NASA, the food system for each astronaut per day on Gemini 7 was limited to 0.77kg, or 1.7 pounds, and 110 cubic inches in volume, which had to include the food packaging.
Out of this world
By the time man had made it to the moon on the Apollo 11 mission in 1969, eating in space had made its own giant leaps. As reported by the National Air and Space Museum, rations were increased to 2,800 calories per day and hot water dispensers were installed so meals no longer had to be room temperature. Gone were the days of squeezing pastes from a tube; improved packaging reduced meal preparation and consumption time.