A few days ago, the French astronaut and current commander of the International Space Station (ISS), Thomas Pesquet, published a video in which he showed some foods that he and the rest of the crew consume in orbit. The food doesn’t look as appetizing as on Earth, but according to Pesquet, it’s pretty decent.
The astronaut has had the opportunity to eat premium food, which he calls “Party Food.” However, this is not daily bread. This type of more sophisticated food, which comes canned, is reserved for weekends, birthdays or for any occasion in which the entire crew can gather, including Russian and American colleagues.
The kitchen in the ISS! I was so happy to receive my favorite dishes that I made a video of them, and I take this opportunity to explain to you how we eat in space.
😋 🥫 🍲
Food! I was so happy about the arrival of my food that I made a video about it. 🍫😋 pic.twitter.com/dBOL5eN5gX
— Thomas Pesquet (@Thom_astro) October 7, 2021
Delicious food in space, is it possible?
Pesquet arrived at the ISS in April this year, but before embarking, he asked renowned Michelin-starred chef Thierry Marx to prepare a pair of specially designed dishes for the crew inside the station.
However, Marx could not cook dishes like the ones we eat on Earth, they had to be prepared specifically for astronauts in orbit. For that, in January This year, he worked with the researcher and professor at the Center Français d’Innovation Culinaire (CFIC), Raphaël Haumont.
While Haumont concentrated on the transformation of raw materials, Marx focused on the recipes, the taste and the sensations that a dish could provide, drawing on his knowledge of molecular cuisine.
The chef was clear that the health of astronauts is important during long-term space missions, so he kept an eye on the amounts of salt, fat and sugar in the dishes.
“You have to see astronauts as athletes of high level,” said Marx in a interview April this year. “Thomas will be confined there for six months and weight gain is not an option,” he added.
As a result, the menu included Roscoff’s potato and onion tart with truffles, beef simmered for seven hours with cepe sauce, almond tart with caramelized pears, and an experimental recipe made with freeze-dried cherry tomatoes, as shown by Pesquet in the video.
But it is not only Marx who has had the pleasure of preparing delicious and healthy food for the astronauts of the ISS. NASA also has a long-term partnership with another renowned chef, Alain Ducasse. In fact, some of their foods appear in Pesquet’s video as well, such as shredded chicken, Scottish salmon, carrots with cumin, and potatoes, among other foods.
In order for astronauts to enjoy space food to the fullest, chefs try to add more flavor to dishes than they would normally do to terrestrial diners. This is because, in space, the sense of taste is dulled by blocked sinuses and cavities, as body fluids float more freely in microgravity conditions.
How is food packed for space?
If you go on a trip with your friends for several days to a remote place, where home services do not reach, the most likely thing is that you bring a lot of food and what you need to consume it. And to avoid spoiling, what you would take would be non-perishable food.
The NASA He says that’s what astronauts do when they go into space. The most important factor in preparing space food is preservation, and since the crew clearly does not have the ability to get to and from Earth quickly for food, the food must be able to be stored for a long time.
According to him Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space MuseumDuring the early days of the Apollo missions, preservation methods included freeze-drying or lyophilization. This remains a popular food preservation method for ISS astronauts.
In the past, much of the food astronauts ate was meat that came in tubes and mashed vegetables, perhaps that’s why some think space food is bland. But modern preservation methods are more advanced.
As Pesquet shows in the video, in addition to consuming freeze-dried vegetables (such as tomatoes and artichokes) and meat, they eat irradiated foods, such as chocolate cakes. To do this, what astronauts do is put a package of irradiated food in a special oven or rehydrate it with hot or cold water.
The idea of irradiation may seem scary, but the truth is that, contrary to what you might think, it does not make food radioactive or compromise its nutritional quality. It also does not change the taste, texture, or appearance of food in any perceptible way.
Now looking to the future, the food supply could be supplemented with another eating method: space crops. That’s because last year, in order to prepare longer missions (like trips to the Moon or Mars), NASA managed to grow the first radish crop in space.
On November 30, 2020, Kate Rubins, a NASA flight engineer, removed 20 radish plants that were grown in the Advanced Plant Habitat on the ISS. Then, he wrapped the radish plants in aluminum foil for cold storage until they could return to Earth in 2021.
According to NASA, radishes are the last vegetable crop to be successfully harvested in space. Foods such as green lettuce, red romaine lettuce, lentils, Chinese cabbage and mustard were previously harvested.