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Saturday, 23 April 2016

Food in Space

Food. Fewer things on this planet are more representative of people and their cultures than the food we eat. The ingredients, the method of preparation, the perfect wine with which to pair, all the customs surrounding food highlight the intricacies of people, interaction, and biology. But what about food in space? Today, on Embrace Space, we take a look.

I must credit the inspiration, and infographic, for this post goes to Joy Billings, from While researching space exploration, she found my blog, thought it very interesting, and reached out to me. She prepared the infographic below and asked if I would like to use it. I found it to be informative, interesting, and well-researched, so today's post reflects that.

I find the history of food in space to be fascinating, because it clues us in on the evolution of our understanding of space, as well as probing deeper into human traits we take for granted here on the 1g of Earth.

On Earth, food is plentiful. There is an incredible variety, and such a variation on the preparation. On Earth, the act of eating is not difficult, for most of us, and unless you're eating a hotdog, there is no question that the food will be eaten safely.

However, with the free-floating nature of space, we weren't even sure we could eat. Once we found out that we could, the science and art of eating in space has developed with great enthusiasm.

First, we had food in tubes, then we moved to freeze-dried options. As our understanding of space improved, so too did our options for preparing and storing food in space. These innovations were then commercially developed for us here on Earth. These "spin-off" solutions include plastic wrap, freeze-dried camping foods, hospital hotplates and many more!

The social advancements with food are also very interesting. In 1975, astronauts and cosmonauts, from the US and USSR, respectively, partook in the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. Its primary purpose was to show an easing of tension between the two nations. Right in the middle of the Cold War, when cooperation between these two seemed the least likely, when engineers on both sides were critizing the other for their designs, this test project saw the Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft dock in space, with men in space coming together to share food, customs, and culture.

A replica of the Apollo-Soyuz modules, as seen on my trip to Russia! (The Apollo is on the left)
Despite the Apollo looking larger, the Russian module was said to have more room, and so the astronauts and cosmonauts dined on the Soyuz.
Food was a simple, unifying force for these men. It is a universal truth that we all must eat, and sharing a meal is one of the easiest ways to bridge awkward social gaps and tension. 

Infographic - Evolution of Food in Space: From Bland Puree to Almost Like on Earth

Since 2000, the International Space Station has hosted 221 people from 18 countries. Some have stayed for a few days, and some have stayed for almost a year. In that time, many meals were shared, and it has been shown that sharing meals is an incredibly important aspect of life in space. 

It is very easy to feel isolated when you see the same people every day and you practically sleep in a closet. The biological effects of living in space are becoming very well-understood, but as longer and longer missions are carried out, the psychological effects are becoming much more important to understand. 

If we are going to send people beyond low-Earth orbit, for longer missions to the Moon or even Mars, we must find ways to keep the crew happy, as well as healthy.  

I think as we move forward, and farther, in our human exploration of space, there will need to be evolution both on the part of the design (changing space to fit our needs), and on humanity (changing our needs to fit space). 

We saw that by installing a table on the ISS, people were more comfortable sharing a meal and this provided psychological benefits. But there is no up, or down, in space. Here on Earth, architecture and design is governed by a set of rules, chief among them being gravity. Look around the room that you're in. The walls may be covered in pictures, and the ceiling may have a light or a fan, but otherwise, those walls are bare. If your room were in space, you could be sitting on the floor, the ceiling, or the wall. You could use your space to greater effect, and thus, you would need less of it. This is how astronauts have changed themselves to fit space, and I think there must be a balance between changing ourselves, and changing the space around us. We evolved to live on Earth, so it will be tough to live anywhere else, but I think if we want to reach for the stars, we will have to learn to adapt.

So those are some thoughts on food in space, if you're interested in learning more, take a look around your local library or search engine, there is a universe of information out there for you to chew on. 

Thanks for reading, and whether you're in space or on Earth, bon app├ętit

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