There are many different ways of eating all around the world, and even more ways to eat in outer space! Our ancient human ancestors have been cooking for almost two million years, and this has grown into the complex food system of today (from cooking over open flames, to advanced agriculture, to modern-day grocery stores). What we share in common is that food is part of what shapes us as individuals, and brings us together as communities! It should be no surprise that food is a big source of comfort for astronauts living in space. Food that is nourishing ensures that astronauts stay healthy, and food that is familiar and delicious helps astronauts feel happy and gives them a sense of home away from home. Is there a special meal that you like to eat with your family and friends on Earth? What food would you most like to have in space?
Designing food for space is no easy task. Food scientists at NASA have spent years and years developing food products and packaging that can stay edible on the International Space Station for up to 7 years! NASA astronauts can choose from a special space menu of 200+ foods and beverages. Some common items include tortillas, Teriyaki Chicken, broccoli, eggs, and fruit salad. There are many different details on the packages that demonstrate that it’s space food, like plastic tubes to add water for rehydration or velcro patches so the food doesn’t float away!
Eating in zero gravity can be challenging because astronauts need to pay special attention to food flyaways and crumbs. Some of the foods we enjoy on Earth might also taste different in space. One of the reasons for this is because in zero gravity we experience fluid shifts in the body causing “space face,” which can affect our ability to taste and smell as easily. You may have experienced this if you’ve ever had a bad cold! This is why some astronauts are known to add extra salt and even hot sauce to their food! Another solution to try and improve the eating experience for astronauts could be to design food that is extra flavorful, has added textures (like crunch), and looks tasty. Mixing all these elements together is called a “multi-sensory” experience!
You can learn more about the history of space food here, and watch a real astronaut eating aboard the International Space Station to see how different it is to eat in zero gravity here!
You’re an astronaut about to go up to the International Space Station for a six month mission. A space food lab is going to make one special recipe just for you! In this mission, you are tasked with choosing what this meal would be. We will prompt you with some questions on how and why you chose your meal, as well as have you put on your space hat and imagine how the meal would be different if it was cooked and eaten in space!
Please follow along using this worksheet!
To complete your mission, you will:
 Choose your meal or dish. Why did you choose this dish or meal? Make a list of the ingredients needed to make this dish. Provide a description of how the dish usually looks, tastes, smells, and textures on earth. What sticks out to you about this meal or dish most?
 Interview a friend or family member about what meal they would choose. Ask them for the recipe or find a similar recipe. Similar to your own dish, have them describe the sensory experiences associated with it and try to depict their dish as well.
 Write up your space-modified meals. Now you will use your knowledge of changes in zero gravity (remember to reference the space food resources page if you get stuck!) to change these dishes so that they are space ready!
Upload your worksheet and/or recipe to the “Home Cooking in Outer Space” forum on the Full STEAM Ahead website!
Submit a recipe to the Interplanetary Cookbook. Create a recipe for future space travellers. What would you want them to remember about your culture on planet Earth? This could be a recipe based on the environment of space (e.g., zero gravity, extreme temperatures, landscape on another planet), a mealtime tradition (e.g., cultural, daily routine, special occasion), or even a cuisine style (e.g., regional, homestyle, comfort food). Submit by May 15, 2020!
Interplanetary Cookbook - a collection of recipes and designs for the future of space food, and the MIT Media Lab Space Exploration Initiative’s Open Call for Entries (deadline to apply: May 15, 2020). We’d love to hear from you! :)
Chris Hadfield's Space Kitchen - watch an astronaut eating in space
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Kimchi goes to space, along with first Korean astronaut - learn how Kimchi, Korea’s national dish, was adapted for space
Here's what astronauts on the International Space Station eat for Thanksgiving - a description of how some astronauts eat on special celebrations