Gravitating in Space. What food will we be?

Gravitating in Space. What food will we be?

Galactic gardens, eating among the stars, and space menus!!!

Going of the moon to inhabit it, and from there, explore the deepest space, Mars, and other celestial bodies of the solar system to improve life on the earth. It represents a shared and global challenge in the name of sustainability. It involves space agencies, universities, research centres, and industries in the management of space.
The purpose is to create thoughtful economic advancement. This challenge foresees the conception and making of satellite services for navigation and telecommunication, pressurized modules, innovative technologies for printing 3D house modules necessary to the astronauts directly on the moon for the following lunar missions.

At the Italian Space Agency, scientific researchers and aerospace engineers redesign, research and experiment, daily, our heritage for future generations, favouring the progress of experimental space explorations for the benefit of humankind.
The beautiful moon sang by poets and artists is becoming a reality for us. In 2024, an American astronaut will impress her footprint on the lunar dust.

But this time, we will go on the moon to stay, build an imposing human settlement, a destination full of adventure, continuous scientific discoveries and innovative technologies.

In these futuristic scenarios, where science and technology take over, the human side remains the true and only protagonist. Astronauts will render these housing clusters community of people that, apart from thinking, researching, studying, exploring, will continue essentially being humans having primary needs to grant their extra-terrestrial survival.

In light of this lunar scenery, one of the many questions relating to human subsistence is, how will our astronauts feed themselves?
If we retrace the historical evolution of space food, it talks of menus and food designed and cooked to live inside spaceships for a short time. If today the perspective is to settle to the moon, savour the moon, the questions on nutrition are several.

As the wise teach, there is no modernity without respecting traditions. Therefore, we will define a short digression on the evolution of food and what space menus offer to the astronauts from the first moon landing to today.

1962 Smoothie food in tubes. The Russian Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, on his menu, can choose between meat, liver and vegetables, all blended from a pipe while he orbits the world. To enjoy a dessert in space, he needs to squeeze the chocolate sauce from another tube.

1965 Dehydrated food in sealed packaging. The NASA Gemini programme conducts its first flight with a crew aboard and sends dehydrated food in sealed bags. They contain food such as rice pudding, scrambled eggs, and chicken curry. Sealed up are also drinks like coffee and milk. Meals contain fewer calories than usual because the caloric needs of the astronauts are lower in zero-gravity conditions.

1964 Dessert and treats. Gluttonous cosmonauts are satisfied. To satisfy their sweet tooth, they introduce sugar cubes cookies into the space diet, designed to be eaten with a single bite. They are covered with gelatin to prevent crumbs from clogging electrical systems or air filters. The gelatine coating prevents food from spoiling and preserves its flavour.

1969 Packaged meat and vegetables. During the first landing on Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin eat meat and vegetables, pork, potatoes and bacon. And apple sauce. In the case of an emergency, they provided an extra amount of food, which they could eat directly from the inside of their astronaut helmets.

1983 The trays appear. During the ninth Space Shuttle mission, astronauts eat from trays containing foods, such as meatballs with barbecue sauce, rice pilaf, Italian beans, and heat-stabilized chocolate pudding.

1985 Fresh food. NASA supplies Space Shuttle astronauts with a fresh food cabinet with fruits and vegetables such as apples, bananas, carrots and celery sticks.

2001 The first pizza delivery in space. Pizza Hut is famous for being the first to deliver pizza outside the atmosphere of the earth. They sent the meal to the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Usachov, who was living on the International Space Station at the time. Pizza Hut paid the Russian space agency about $1 million for this advertising mission to promote astronaut food.

2004 M&M’s® on board. While controlling Space Ship One, an experimental aircraft, the pilot Mike Melvill indulges in an extravagance. He pulls out of his pocket some M&M’s® of different colours. He lets them flow, and thanks to the absence of gravity, these turn into little sparkling lights.

2017 Pizza party. Years go by, and, as it should be, we can now do everything in space. A group of astronauts gave life to a Pizza Party, preparing the pizzas themselves and juggling very well between a sauce and a flying passage.

2018 Christmas dinner for astronauts. Elon Musk and his space company SpaceX have sent a cosmic Christmas dinner to astronauts on the International Space Station. The menu includes smoked turkey, a green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and fruitcake. Most of the menu consists of vacuum-packed dehydrated food.

The near future. Grow food with LED lights. After retracing the historical evolution of space food, we end this first journey by describing the possible new food frontier that could revolutionize the space menus. NASA is working on a new space station that could include a garden where foods, such as lettuce, strawberries and potatoes can be grown under LED lights. The vegetable garden would not require much water and could significantly improve the nutrition of the astronauts providing them with fresh fruit and vegetables.

We have noticed that the food of astronauts, or rather, space food, has evolved quite slowly in history. Although science and technology have progressed exponentially in recent decades, space food has remained almost entirely thermostabilized, pre-cooked or frozen. The germination of fresh food, directly on board, could finally improve diets in space, making the stay of cosmonauts more humane and healthy.

Astronauts adopt the nutrition of ordinary and mortal terrestrials when they gravitate in space: some foods they can eat in their natural forms, such as fruit and biscuits, others, such as the main courses, require the addition of water and must be heated since already pre-cooked. Even on the space station, there is an oven to heat food to the right temperature. For many years there were no refrigerators, so food had to be stored and prepared to avoid spoilage, especially on extended missions. In the spatial menus, we can also find some condiments such as ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise. Salt and pepper are available, but only in liquid form. That is because astronauts cannot sprinkle salt and pepper on their food in space. It would solely float away and run the risk of obstructing vents and contaminating onboard sophisticated equipment.

Therefore, astronaut food arrives in disposable packaging. Cosmonauts have to throw away the containers after finishing eating. Some packages are in a way that prevents food from flying off. Food packaging has become flexible and easy to use and optimize space when storing or removing food containers.

‘The menu of the astronauts who inhabit the International Space Station for months will change with the arrival, next November, of Samanta Cristoforetti, the first Italian female astronaut of ESA (European Space Agency). She will carry out the Futura mission, the second of a long duration set by the Italian Space Agency. Cristoforetti, a crew member of the ISS 42/43 expedition, will carry, onboard the ISS, an ambitious programme for nutrition and health in space and on earth.

For the first time on the ISS, there will be a galley. Cristoforetti will be able to carry out the cooking in orbit. She will be able to prepare her menus, combining the different foods we have prepared for the Futura mission of the Italian Space Agency’, anticipates David Avino of Argotec, the Turin-based company, specialized in menus for astronauts. They will bring the first space coffee machine to the ISS, which combines three high engineering and technology patents, in partnership with Lavazza, which has created specific capsules suitable for the microgravity environment.

‘In line with the food project of Cristoforetti, tasty, above all, healthy foods have been created, often based on the rules of nutrigenomics, the science studying the interaction between the foods we eat and our genes.
With Luca Parmitano, we brought Made in Italy cuisine: lasagna, caponata, eggplant parmigiana and tiramisu, and also German cuisine with the mission currently underway by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst. With Samantha, there is a change of pace. Her taste combines with special attention for a healthy eating plan, a message that Cristoforetti wants to send from space to Earth.’
They needed six months of research to create Samantha’s menus: ‘they are all thermostable, dehydrated products, having a chef life of 24-36 months and do not go in the fridge. These are technologies we will export on the Earth’, Avino concludes.

Related Articles

Food and innovation

Aerospace technologies supporting Agriculture 4.0

Technologies from the aerospace sector make food production eco-friendly and improve the quality of what we bring to our tables. They may seem worlds apart, yet food and aerospace...

Posted on by Rossana Gravina
Food and Science

Does flour have a soul?

Let’s look at the Flour! Every day we come across a wide variety of food, both from animal and vegetable origin. We handle it, look at it, sometimes cook it, and eat it. Often, we...

Posted on by Rossana Gravina