It was a welcomed return visit from Mr Russell Parry from Wigan at Keighley astronomical society’s first meeting of the Astronomical season. Mr Parry had previously presented a lecture of the Apply Bridge Meteorite. First Meal in Space. On this visit it was on a subject related to the industry that Mr Parry works within. ‘Food production from the space Race’.
Mr Parry detailed the timeline of food for the space traveller.
John Glenn was the first American to eat in space aboard Friendship 7 in 1962. At that time it was not known if ingestion and absorption of nutrients were possible in a state of zero gravity. Glenn’s consumption of applesauce, packed in a tube, and xylose sugar tablets with water, demonstrated that people could eat, swallow, and digest food in a weightless environment.
Mercury space food of the early 1960s was based on Army survival rations, and consisted of pureed food packed into aluminum tubes and sucked through a straw. While Glenn and the other Mercury astronauts experienced no problems in chewing, drinking, swallowing, or digesting, the food was not considered very delicious.
Gemini Program Food.
In the weightless environment of space, astronauts exerted less energy in conducting their work than if they were on Earth. Gemini astronauts were allotted 2500 calories a day during space missions, less than their normal intake of 3000 calories. The food, which had 99 percent of the moisture removed to reduce weight, had an average content of 17 percent protein, 32 percent fat, and 51 percent carbohydrates.
First Freeze-Dried Space Food.
Dehydrated, freeze-dried, and bite-sized foods, coated with gelatin or oil to prevent crumbling, were introduced during Project Gemini. On-board hydrogen-oxygen fuel cells provided a source of water that could be used to moisten dehydrated or freeze-dried foods.
Freeze-dried foods are prepared by quick-freezing cooked items, which are then placed in a vacuum chamber where they are heated to remove all water. Natural oils, however, are retained. The items are then vacuum-packed in a four-ply laminated container with a water valve at one end. Foods preserved in this manner can be kept at room temperature for long periods of time.
Gemini and Apollo food was prepared and packaged by Whirlpool Corporation in conjunction with the U.S. Army Laboratory in Natick, Massachusetts and NASA.
The first time solid food was eaten in space was on Gemini 3. Astronaut John Young carried two meal packages to sample on his 5-hour mission. While in orbit, Young surprised fellow astronaut Virgil Grissom when he presented him with a corned beef sandwich on rye, which had been purchased at a delicatessen in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Grissom did not finish the sandwich, however, because it was producing crumbs.
Preparing a Meal.
A freeze-dried meal would be rehydrated using a water gun to inject cold water into the package. After cutting the package open with scissors, the meal was then ready to eat.
Freeze-Dried Space Food.
Most food for the Apollo missions was preserved through a process known as freeze-drying. Prior to packaging, a food was quick-frozen and then placed into a vacuum chamber. The vacuum removed all moisture from the foods. They were then packaged while still in the vacuum chamber. Freeze-drying provides foods that will keep their nutrition and taste qualities almost indefinitely. They are extremely light and compact and require no refrigeration.
Some of these Apollo foods—the cereal and brownie cubes, for example—may be eaten without preparation. The others must have hot or cold water added through the nozzle at the end of the package.
Unlike the Gemini program water guns that only injected cold water for rehydrating foods, the Apollo program had water guns that injected either hot or cold water. After rehydration, the food was squeezed into the astronaut’s mouth through the flat tube stored in the package. After the food has been eaten, a small tablet was inserted into the package to kill bacterial growth.
Apollo-Soyuz Program Food.
The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) gave American astronauts their first taste of Soviet space food. During the joint American-Soviet mission in 1975, the astronauts dined on Russian specialties such as caviar and borscht in tubes.
Astronaut Menu Selection.
Food evaluations are conducted approximately eight to nine months before the flight. During the food evaluation sessions, the astronaut is given the opportunity to sample a variety of foods and beverages available for flight. A pack of information is given to each astronaut to use in planning their personal preference menus. Included in the packet is a standard menu, training menu, past flight menus the astronaut has chosen, and the baseline shuttle food and beverage list.
Astronauts select their menu approximately five months before flight. The menus are analysed for nutritional content by the NASA Dietitian and recommendations are made to correct any nutrient deficiencies based on the Recommended Dietary Allowances. The menus are then finalized and provided to the Flight Equipment Processing Contractor (FEPC) in Houston three months before launch. The FEPC processes, packages, and stows the food in the Shuttle lockers before being transferred to KSC.