Planning holiday meals can be very difficult on this planet. Space requires normal-level preparation by a team of scientists determined to give astronauts something special. And it’s not just the challenge of making food to survive the journey, but also all the kinds of logistical problems inherent to eating in near zero gravity. For example, typical Christmas cookies and other crumb-producing foods can spell disaster thanks to sensitive equipment aboard the International Space Station (ISS). As a result, cookies at the station are small enough to be eaten in one bite, while other large desserts must be gooey or moist. Most space food must be shelf-stable and safe to eat for several months after delivery, and it must also be packaged in a way that minimizes disruption.
It’s Kimberly Grouse-Latte and her team’s job to figure out the adjustments and strategies behind these challenges.latte is a scientist Leidosa contractor working with NASA. NASA Space Food Systems Research Institute (SFSL) Preparation and packaging of holiday and other meals for Space Station crew members. We spoke to Mr. Latte about what’s on his ISS menu this holiday season, how it’s prepared for meals in space, and what dietary restrictions are in place 400 miles above Earth. I asked them if they could handle it.
Eater: First, can you explain the challenges of making food for use in space? From bread to packaging, what is the food preparation process that’s space-worthy?
Kimberly Grouse Latte: Non-perishable, ready-to-eat foods such as cookies, crackers and trail mix are available commercially and repackaged in approved packaging on board. Powdered beverages are purchased, packaged in pouches, and vacuum sealed with septum assemblies so water can be added without leaking. Crew members shake the pouch to dissolve the powder and use a special straw to drink the beverage.
The purchased raw materials are used to prepare food and are then freeze-dried or heat stabilized. Freeze-dried foods must be reconstituted before eating. These are vacuum packaged with bulkhead assemblies, allowing flight crew to add water to fully reconstitute the food before opening the package and eating. Heat-stabilized foods are ready-to-eat and can be heated or consumed at room temperature.
What holiday food will the ISS crew eat this year?
The standard menu includes both sliced roasted turkey (freeze-dried and rehydrated by the crew) and smoked turkey (ready-to-eat, irradiated), plus mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, macaroni and cheese, and green beans. , which includes cranapple. dessert. The SFSL team also prepared special holiday food containers that included canned crab meat, smoked salmon, pork liver pate, jellied cranberry sauce, pumpkin spice latte and more. The food arrived in November.
Bread crumbs can be dangerous on the space station. How are desserts like cookies modified to be more ISS friendly (and less messy)?
Cookies and snacks on the standard menu are generally bite-sized. Non-bite-sized items are chewy and sticky, which limits crumb formation. Lemon curd cake and chocolate pudding cake are heat-stabilized bagged foods (like the ready-to-eat chicken and tuna products sold at grocery stores). Both cakes are moist and have no crumbs. To provide the crew with a holiday experience, tubes of icing will be provided to decorate the cookies.
Do overseas crew members usually come together for holiday celebrations, regardless of their background?
The orbiting crew gathers for celebrations and special meals.
As Christmas approaches, are ISS crew members still receiving food-based gifts from their loved ones back on Earth? How does that work?
Space station crew members receive care packages containing food selected by their families. The SFSL team will provide information to ensure the items you select do not produce crumbs and are shelf-stable.
Do any of the astronauts have dietary restrictions or preferences? Can you provide meals tailored to specific diets?
Standard space station menus are sent before the crew and are designed for public acceptance. Since it must be submitted in advance, we cannot accommodate individual restrictions or selections. ISS crew members are assigned resupply schedules based on a limited amount of personal preference, which may not be possible on future exploration missions far from Earth.
Are there any special health concerns that should be considered when preparing meals to eat in space? For example, will the crew need more of certain nutrients than people here? Are supplements necessary?
Iodine can cause thyroid problems for crew members, so the SFSL team uses non-iodized salt to cook their meals. I’m also concerned about iron overload. Spaceflight foods have reduced sodium compared to most commercially processed foods to prevent adverse spaceflight conditions such as bone loss and intraocular pressure problems. Crew members are individually paired with a flight surgeon who will collaboratively assess their supplement needs.
Will you send me junk food/snack food?
Many of the snacks on the regular menu are healthy, such as dried fruit, trail mix, and nuts. The standard menu includes three types of candy coated chocolate. Additionally, crew members select their favorite snacks and candies and place them in the crew member’s preferred container. Approximately 20-25% of the food items are personal preferences or special items that can be accommodated to fit into the ISS replenishment schedule.
what drinks do they have? Are you dehydrated except for water?
Each crew member will be allocated five containers of their coffee/tea preference as part of their personal preference allocation. The SFSL team works with the crew to select powdered coffee, tea, or other beverage of choice to fill the beverage pouches. This allows the crew to drink caffeinated drinks just like they would at home. No sweeteners or cream may be added to the beverage pouch while in orbit. All ingredients must be included when packaging. There are also containers containing drinks such as cocoa, orange drink, and mango peach smoothie. The regular menu does not include alcohol.
Will fresh food be sent?
Perishable food kits, shelf-stable food kits, and refrigerated loading kits are shipped in each freight vehicle, subject to large quantities. Fresh food kits typically include apples, oranges, and other items requested by the crew. The shelf-stable kits contain food stored at room temperature and also include special requests. Refrigerated food kits contain fresh produce such as cheese.
I heard that pizza kits are welcome. How do these work?
Pizza kits are special treats that include shelf-stable pizza dough, pizza sauce in a squeezable plastic bottle, pepperoni, and other shelf-stable toppings. These ingredients still have a shelf life, which is only possible due to resupply and the short distance between Earth and the ISS. Pizza is a fond memory of home.
kathy adams An award-winning journalist and freelance writer with a passion for offbeat topics. Her work has been published in Atlas Obscura. USA TodaySFGate, etc.