What do Astronauts Eat in Space?

During the early days of manned spaceflight, the cuisine left much to be desired. The food eaten by Mercury astronauts included freeze-dried powders, bite-sized cubes, and semi-liquids packed in aluminum tubes. The food kept them healthy during their space flights, but did little to please the palate.

Fortunately, the science of space food has advanced immensely over the past 50 years. Today's astronauts eat a variety of tasty meals and snacks, all made to keep them happy and healthy during their long stays in space.

Astronaut brian duffy consumes a Space Orange Drink

Astronaut Brian Duffy with a beverage packaged for drinking in space.

Astronaut foods are designed to stay fresh for long periods of time on the International Space Station, which lacks a refrigerator to keep things cold. The foods come in four types:

Thermostabilized: These foods are heat processed to eliminate dangerous enzymes and microorganisms. Thermostabilized astronaut foods are similar to ones you can find  packaged in plastic cups, flexible pouches, and metal cans in supermarkets. Examples include canned fish, pudding, and various meats such as ham.

Irradiated: Similar to thermostabilized items, irradiated foods include selected meats that are put through a process to eliminate harmful substances. Space station astronauts only need to heat the meats up before consuming them.

Rehydratable: These items include both foods and beverages that are rehydrated using water. Examples of foods in this category include soups, casseroles, scrambled eggs, cereals, and shrimp cocktail. Beverages include tea, coffee, orange juice, apple cider, and lemonade.

Natural form: This category includes granola bars, cookies, and nuts that require no preparation to eat.

Space station astronauts, who remain in orbit many months, have menus that repeat every eight days. The astronauts select their menus during testing sessions on Earth prior to launching into space. All space foods come in disposal packages.

Food aboard the space station is an international affair. Astronauts hail from the United States, Russia, Canada, Europe, and Japan. Meals are sent up ahead of astronauts' flights by automated freighters.

Since bread tends to easily crumble and float around, flour tortillas have been used as a substitute since 1985. In general, space foods are designed to prevent crumbs that can clog equipment.

Due to bodily changes caused by microgravity, an astronaut's sense of taste is diminished. As a result, condiments take on an extra special role in space. Astronauts use a lot of taco and hot pepper sauce along with ketchup, mayonnaise, and mustard. Salt dissolved in water and pepper suspended in oil are also popular.

Microgravity also causes bone loss in astronauts. To help compensate, astronauts take vitamin D supplements, which helps build up bones, while limiting the amount of sodium in their diet, which leads to bone loss.

Space Food

Space Food Fact Sheet



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