Dubai: So you can’t have a three-course meal in space, or can you?
Despite all the limitations of food preparation in orbit, and contrary to popular belief, astronauts do still actually have a variety of meals, from unleavened breads to soups, sweets and savoury dishes on the International Space Station (ISS).
However, since there are no floating shops anywhere, they’d have to be supplied with pre-packaged food from Earth to survive. And because there are no fridges on the ISS, (yes, you heard it right!) these space foods should also be able to last a fair bit of time until astronauts can restock during the next scheduled food delivery.
During Gulf News’ recent trip to Moscow while following first Emirati astronaut Hazza Al Mansoori’s final preparations for the September 25 mission to the ISS, we got hold of some Astrofood from the Space Food Laboratory. This company is the first to make real astronaut food available to the public for mass consumption anywhere in the world.
The astrofood that they produce is a “physiologically beneficial and balanced product, made using only natural ingredients.” Similar to the Meals, Ready-To-Eat (MREs) issued to the US military, Astrofoods are prepared with the astronaut’s nutritional and calorie needs in mind.
So what exactly are these space foods and how are they made?
Space food is anything edible prepared on Earth intended to be sent to space for consumption. They are packaged in different ways and sent to the ISS every few months.
Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, snacked on space food stored in squeeze tubes like toothpaste on the Vostok 1 spacecraft. Since liquids are heavy and could just bubble up and float in space, Astrofood has to be dispensed from a tube straight to a spoon.
Through time and improvements in technology, space food was then packaged in different forms. Some were freeze-dried, canned, packed with low moisture, pre-cooked or dehydrated. Drinks also come in dehydrated form and just rehydrated using recycled water on the station.
During Al Mansoori’s eight-day stay on the orbital lab, he will have a chance to eat Emirati dishes and share them with his space colleagues.
On the menu are the balaleet, a traditional, sweet Emirati breakfast dish of egg and vermicelli, the saloona, a stew made up of spicy vegetables with meat or fish, and the madrooba, which is salt-cured fish seasoned with spices in a pot.
Aside from these, a daily menu of different types of food will be served which Al Mansoori handpicked prior to his trip.
Once on the ISS, astronauts log the food they have eaten and the data is analysed by ground station officials for feedback, if any.
What do space foods taste like?
According to Nasa, our sense of taste gets affected in space. The way astronauts savour food in zero gravity is different from when they eat food on Earth. Because of weightlessness, an astronaut’s face could get puffy because of the fluid shift in their bodies. This can feel like a heavy cold that can affect their sense of smell, which in turn affects their sense of taste.
So astronauts have the option to spice up their meals with condiments available in liquid form such as salt, pepper, hot sauces, honey, soy sauce, or barbeque sauce.
What do space foods taste like on Earth?
Gulf News wouldn’t pass the chance to taste space food. So while in Moscow, we got ourselves four different flavours. For starters, we got the Russian spiced mutton soup. For the main dish we had veal with vegetables and chicken meat with prunes. The cottage cheese with blackcurrant puree was perfect for dessert.
Disclaimer: The verdict of our unbiased taste testers was given in the spirit of pure fun.