Category: food

Part of the appeal of Thanksgiving is how easily we settle into the familiar: cherished foods, friends and family, and favorite activities like football, puzzles or board games. As anyone who has spent Thanksgiving with someone else’s traditions knows, those familiar things can take on seemingly unusual forms. That’s especially true when you’re 200 miles up in space.

Holidays in space weren’t very common early in the program, but as astronauts start the 20th year of continuous habitation they will also be celebrating the 20th consecutive Thanksgiving in orbit. As it turns out, everything’s the same, but different.

Food

Early in the space program, astronauts didn’t have much choice about their meals. A turkey dinner with all the trimmings was as much a pipe dream in the early 1960s as space travel had been a few decades earlier. Food had to be able to stay fresh, or at least edible, from the time it was packed until the end of the mission, which might be several weeks. It couldn’t be bulky or heavy, but it had to contain all the nutrition an astronaut would need. It had to be easily contained, so crumbs or droplets wouldn’t escape the container and get into the spacecraft instrumentation. For the first flights, that meant a lot of food in tubes or in small bite-sized pieces.

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Examples of food from the Mercury program

Chores first, then dinner

Maybe you rake leaves to start the day or straighten up the house for guests. Perhaps you’re the cook. Just like you, astronauts sometimes have to earn their Thanksgiving dinner. In 1974, two members of the Skylab 4 crew started their day with a six-and-a-half hour spacewalk, replacing film canisters mounted outside the spacecraft and deploying an experiment package.

After the spacewalk, the crew could at least “sit down” for a meal together that included food they didn’t have to eat directly from a bag, tube or pouch. In the spacecraft’s “ward room”, a station held three trays of food selected for the astronauts. The trays themselves kept the food warm.

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A food tray similar to the ones astronauts used aboard Skylab, showing food, utensils and clean wipes. The tray itself warmed the food.

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The ward room aboard Skylab showing the warming trays in use. The Skylab 4 crew ate Thanksgiving dinner there in 1974.

Fresh food

It can’t be all mashed potatoes and pie. There have to be some greens. NASA has that covered with VEGGIE, the ongoing experiment to raise food crops aboard the space station. Though the current crop won’t necessarily be on the Thanksgiving menu, astronauts have already harvested and eaten “space lettuce”. Researchers hope to be growing peppers aboard the space station in 2020.

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Astronaut Kjell Lindgren enjoys lettuce grown and harvested aboard the International Space Station.


Football

Space station crews have been able to watch football on Thanksgiving thanks to live feeds from Mission Control. Unfortunately their choices of activities can be limited by their location. That long walk around the neighborhood to shake off the turkey coma? Not happening.

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Football in space. It’s a thing.

Be Prepared for the Unplanned

No matter how you plan, there’s a chance something’s going to go wrong, perhaps badly. It happened aboard the Space Shuttle on Thanksgiving 1989. Flight Director Wayne Hale tells of plumbing problem that left Commander Fred Gregory indisposed and vacuum-suctioned to a particular seat aboard the spacecraft.

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 This is not the seat from which the mission commander flies the Space Shuttle.

Hungry for More?

If you can’t get enough of space food, tune into this episode of “Houston, We Have a Podcast” and explore the delicious science of astronaut mealtime.

And whether you’re eating like a king or one of our astronauts currently living and working in space, we wish everybody a happy and safe Thanksgiving!

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.

Just like people here on Earth, astronauts get shipments too! But not in the typical sense. 8,200 pounds of cargo, including supplies and scientific experiments, is on its way to the International Space Station thanks to Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft. This ‘package’ launched out of Wallops Flight Facility on Nov. 2, 2019 at 9:59 a.m. EDT. The investigations aboard the rocket range from research into human control of robotics in space to reprocessing fibers for 3D printing. Get ready, because these new and exciting experiments are arriving soon!

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THE SEARCH FOR DARK MATTER

Stars, planets and their molecules only make up 15% of our universe. The rest is dark matter. However, no one has actually ever been able to see or study it. The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer -02 (AMS-02) has been searching for this substance since 2011. Northrop Grumman’s CRS-12 mission carries new parts for AMS-02 that will be added during a series of upcoming spacewalks so that the instrument can continue to help us shed light on this mystery.

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THE REMOTE EXPLORATION OF EARTH

Rovers operated by astronauts on the International Space Station will attempt to collect geological samples on Earth as part of an investigation called ANALOG-1. The samples, however, are not the important part of the study. Humans experience degraded sensorimotor functions in microgravity that could affect their operation of a robot. This study is designed to learn more about these issues, so that one day astronauts could use robots to perform research on planets they hope to walk on.

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WOAH, THAT’S RAD

The AstroRad Vest is pretty rad. So rad, in fact, that it was sent up on the launch of Northrop Grumman’s CRS-12 mission. This vest intends to protect astronauts from harmful radiation in space. While going about normal activity on the space station, astronauts will wear AstroRad and make note of things like comfort over long periods of time. This will help researchers on Earth finalize the best design for future long duration missions.

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EVEN ASTRONAUTS RECYCLE

The Made in Space Recycler (MIS) looks at how different materials on the International Space Station can be turned into filament used for 3D printing. This 3D printing is done right there in space, in the Additive Manufacturing Facility. Similar studies will be conducted on Earth so that comparisons can be made.  

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FASTER, CHEAPER ACCESS TO SPACE

A collaboration between Automobili Lamborghini and the Houston Methodist Research Institute will be using NanoRacks-Craig-X FTP  to test the performance of 3D-printed carbon fiber composites in the extreme environment of space. The study could lead to materials used both in space and on Earth. For example, the study may help improve the design of implantable devices for therapeutic drug delivery.

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DESSERT, FRESH FROM THE OVEN

Everyone enjoys the aroma of fresh-baked cookies, even astronauts. On future long-duration space missions, fresh-baked food could have psychological and physiological benefits for crew members, providing them with a greater variety of more nutritious meals. The Zero-G Oven experiment examines heat transfer properties and the process of baking food in microgravity.

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Want to learn about more investigations heading to the space station (or even ones currently under way)? Make sure to follow @ISS_Research on Twitter and Space Station Research and Technology News on Facebook. 

If you want to see the International Space Station with your own eyes, check out Spot the Station to see it pass over your town.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.

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It’s Thanksgiving, which means that you’re probably thinking about food right now. And here at NASA, we have to think about food very seriously when we explore space!

Astronauts Need to Eat, Too!

Like for you on Earth, nutrition plays a key role in maintaining the health and optimal performance of the astronauts. The Space Food Systems team is required to meet the nutritional needs of each crew member while adhering to the requirements of limited storage space, limited preparation options, and the difficulties of eating without gravity. 

Good food is necessary being comfortable on a mission a long way from home — especially for crewmembers who are on board for many months at a time. It’s important that the astronauts like the food they’re eating everyday, even given the preparation constraints!

Astronaut Food Has Not Always Been Appetizing

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The early space programs were groundbreaking in a lot of ways — but not when it came to food. Like today, crumbs had to be prevented from scattering in microgravity and interfering with the instruments. Mercury astronauts had to endure bite-sized cubes, freeze-dried powders, and semi-liquids stuffed into aluminum tubes. The freeze-dried food were hard to rehydrate, squeezing the tubes was understandable unappetizing, and the food was generally considered to be, like spaceflight, a test of endurance.

However, over the years, packaging improved, which in turn enhanced food quality and choices. The Apollo astronauts were the first to have hot water, which made rehydrating foods easier and improved the food’s taste. And even the Space Shuttle astronauts had opportunities to design their own menus and choose foods commercially available on grocery store shelves. 

 The Wonders of Modern Space Food

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Nowadays, astronauts on the International Space Station have the opportunity to sample a variety of foods and beverages prepared by the Space Food Systems team and decide which ones they prefer. They can add water to rehydratable products or eat products that are ready to eat off the shelf.

All the cooking and preparation has been done for them ahead of time because 1) they don’t have room for a kitchen to cook on the space station 2) they don’t have time to cook! The crewmembers are extremely occupied with station maintenance as well as scientific research on board, so meal times have to be streamlined as much as possible. 

Instead of going grocery shopping, bulk overwrap bags (BOBs!) are packed into cargo transfer bags for delivery to the space station. Meal based packaging allows the astronauts to have entrees, side dishes, snacks, and desserts to choose from. 

Taste in Space

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The perception of taste changes in space. In microgravity, astronauts experience a fluid shift in their bodies, so the sensation is similar to eating with a headcold. The taste is muted so crewmembers prefer spicy foods or food with condiments to enhance the flavor. 

We Can’t Buy Groceries, But We Can Grow Food!

Growing plants aboard the space station provides a unique opportunity to study how plants adapt to microgravity. Plants may serve as a food source for long term missions, so it’s critical to understand how spaceflight affects plant growth. Plus, having fresh food available in space can have a positive impact on astronauts’ moods!

Since 2002, the Lada greenhouse has been used to perform almost continuous plant growth experiments on the station. We have grown a vast variety of plants, including thale cress, swiss chard, cabbage, lettuce, and mizuna. 

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And in 2015, Expedition 44 members became the first American astronauts to eat plants grown in space when they munched on their harvest of Red Romaine. 

Earthlings Can Eat Space Food, Too

To give you a clear idea of how diverse the selection is for astronauts on board the space station, two earthlings gave the astronaut menu a try for a full week. Besides mentioning once that hot sauce was needed, they fared pretty well! (The shrimp cocktail was a favorite.)

Space Technology for Food on Earth

Not only has our space food improved, but so has our ability measure food production on Earth. Weather that is too dry, too wet, too hot, or too cool can strongly affect a farmer’s ability to grow crops. We collaborated with the United States Agency for International Development to create a system for crop yield prediction based on satellite data: the GEOGLAM Crop Monitor for Early Warning.

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This map measures the health, or “greenness” of vegetation based on how much red or near-infrared light the leaves reflect. Healthy vegetation reflects more infrared light and less visible light than stressed vegetation. As you can see from the map, a severe drought spread across southern Mexico to Panama in June to August of this year. 

The Crop Monitor compiles different types of crop condition indicators — such as temperature, precipitation, and soil moisture — and shares them with 14 national and international partners to inform relief efforts.

Thanksgiving in Space 

Space food has certainly come a long way from semi-liquids squeezed into aluminum tubes! This year, Expedition 57 crewmembers Commander Alexander Gerst and Flight Engineer Serena M. Auñón-Chancellor are looking forward to enjoying a Thanksgiving meal that probably sounds pretty familiar to you: turkey, stuffing, candied yams, and even spicy pound cakes!

Hungry for More?

If you can’t get enough of space food, tune into this episode of “Houston, We Have a Podcast” and explore the delicious science of astronaut mealtime with Takiyah Sirmons. 

And whether you’re eating like a king or an astronaut, we wish everybody a happy and safe Thanksgiving!

How do space plants grow? This experiment on the International Space Station hopes to find out. Space-grown plants look mostly normal, but have some distinct features compared to plants grown on Earth – most notably in the way their roots grow.

Roots evolved to grow “down” to search out nutrients and water, and on Earth, that response is predominantly governed by the force of gravity. But how does a plant know which way is down when there is no “down”? What determines the direction in which the plant’s roots should grow in space?

We are studying the molecular genetic signals that help guide plant growth in the novel environment of spaceflight, including how plants use new molecular “tools” to sense and respond to their environment when familiar signals are absent. What we learn could improve the way we grow plants in microgravity on future space missions, enabling crews to use plants for food and oxygen. This is just one of many petri plates filled with tiny plants from the Characterizing Arabidopsis Root Attractions-2 (CARA-2) that was recently harvest aboard the space station.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.  

It’s Thanksgiving time…which means you’re probably thinking about food…

Ever wonder what the astronauts living and working on the International Space Station eat during their time 250 miles above the Earth? There’s no microwave, but they get by using other methods.

Here are some fun facts about astronaut food…

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Astronauts are assigned their own set of silverware to use during their mission (they can keep it afterward too). Without a dishwasher in orbit, they use special wipes to sterilize their set between uses, but it’s still better for everyone if they keep track of and use their own! So many sets of silverware were ordered during the space shuttle program that crews on the space station today still use silverware engraved with the word “shuttle” on them! So #retro.

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You probably know that astronauts use tortillas instead of bread to avoid crumbs floating everywhere. Rodolfo Neri Vela, a payload specialist from Mexico, who flew on the space shuttle in 1985, introduced tortillas to the space food system. Back then, we would buy fresh tortillas the day before launch to send on the 8-10 day space shuttle missions.

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We then learned how to reduce the water activity when formulating tortillas, which coupled with the reduction of oxygen during packaging would prevent the growth of mold and enable them to last for longer shuttle missions. Now, we get tortillas from the military. In August 2017, acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot ate a meal that included tortillas from 2015!

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Our food menu is mostly all made from scratch so it can meet the requirements of the nutrition team and ensure astronauts eat enough fruits and vegetables. The space station is stocked with a standard menu that includes a mix of the more than 200 food and drink options available. This ensures lots of variety for the station crews but not too many of each individual item.

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The food is packaged into bulk overwrap bags, referred to as BOBs, which are packed into cargo transfer bags for delivery to the space station. Each astronaut also gets to bring nine personalized BOBs for a mission, each containing up to 60 food and drink options so they can include more of their favorites – or choose to send a few specific items for everyone to share on a particular holiday like Thanksgiving. As a result, the crew members often share and swap their food to get more variety. Astronauts also can include any food available at the grocery store as long as it has an 18-month shelf life at room temperature and meets the microbiological requirements.

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Fresh fruit and vegetables are a special treat for astronauts, so nearly every cargo resupply mission includes fresh fruit and veggies – and sometimes ice cream!

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The Dragon spacecraft has freezers to bring science samples back to Earth. If there is space available on its way to orbit, the ground crew may fill the freezer with small cups of ice cream or ice cream bars.

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Some food arrives freeze-dried, and the astronauts rehydrate it by inserting a specific amount of hot or ambient water from a special machine.

Other food comes ready to eat but needs to be reheated, which crew members do on a hot-plate like device. We recently also sent an oven style food warmer to station for the crew to use. And of course, some food like peanuts just get packaged for delivery and are ready to eat as soon as the package is opened!

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Our nutritional biochemists have discovered that astronauts who eat more fish in space lost less bone, which is one of the essential problems for astronauts to overcome during extended stays in space. In the limited area aboard the space shuttle, not all crew members loved it when their coworkers ate the (aromatic) fish dishes, but now that the space station is about the size of a six-bedroom house, that’s not really a problem.

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Astronauts on station have had the opportunity to grow (and eat!) a modest amount of fresh vegetables since the first lettuce harvest in August 2015, with new crops growing now and more coming soon. Crew members have been experimenting using the Veggie growth chamber, and soon plant research will also occur in the new Advanced Plant Habitat, which is nearly self-sufficient and able to control every aspect of the plant environment! 

Growing food in space will be an important component of future deep space missions, and our nutritionists are working with these experiments to ensure they also are nutritious and safe for the crew to eat.

Thanksgiving in Space

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The crew on the space station will enjoy Thanksgiving together. Here’s a look at their holiday menu: 

  • Turkey
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Cornbread Stuffing
  • Candied Yams
  • Cran-Apple Dessert

Learn more about growing food on the space station HERE

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.