Monday, September 27, 2010

NASA JSC - I have the Munchies...

After my note about Space Food Systems Laboratory I got so many more questions about the actual food and meals Astronauts eat. Here I will try to answer some of those questions. 

First and foremost, the foods they eat aboard the Space Shuttle or the ISS are neither blend nor unsavory. The food systems and menu items have evolved tremendously since the days of the Mercury Program. Just check out the previous notes with pictures of the menus. 

First Meal in Orbit
John Glenn, America's first man to eat anything in the near-weightless environment of Earth orbit, found the task of eating fairly easy, but found the menu to be limited. Other Mercury astronauts had to endure bite-sized cubes, freeze- dried powders and semi-liquids packaged in aluminum tubes. Most agreed the foods were unappetizing and disliked squeezing the tubes. Moreover, freeze-dried foods were hard to rehydrate and crumbs had to be prevented from fouling instruments.

February 20, 1962 - A weightless applesauce tube floats
 free following a snack by astronaut John Glenn in the
 course of his first orbit during the Mercury
 "Friendship 7" mission.
Gemini brings improvements
Eating on the Gemini missions improved somewhat. Bite-sized cubes were coated with gelatin to reduce crumbling, and the freeze-dried foods were encased in a special plastic container to make reconstituting easier. With improved packaging came improved food quality and menus. Gemini astronauts had such food choices as shrimp cocktail, chicken and vegetables, butterscotch pudding, and applesauce, and were able to select meal combinations themselves.

By the time of the Apollo Program, the quality and variety of food increased even further. Apollo astronauts were the first to have hot water, which made rehydrating foods easier and improved the food’s taste. These astronauts were also the first to use utensils via the “spoon bowl,” a plastic container that could be opened and its contents eaten with a spoon. Thermostabilized pouches were also introduced on Apollo.

Skylab a Five * Gourmet Place
The task of eating in space got a big boost in Skylab. Unlike previous space vehicles for astronauts, Skylab featured a large interior area where space was available for a dining room and table. Eating for Skylab’s three-member teams was a fairly normal operation: Footholds allowed them to situate themselves around the table and “sit” to eat. Added to the conventional knife, fork and spoon was a pair of scissors for cutting open plastic seals. Because Skylab was relatively large and had ample storage area, it could feature an extensive menu: 72 different food items. It also had a food freezer and refrigerator – a convenience no other vehicle has offered, before or since.

Skylab Tray and Food

Space Food Systems Laboratory
The kinds of foods crewmembers eat aboard the space shuttle are not mysterious concoctions, but foods prepared here on Earth. Many are commercially available on grocery store shelves. Astronauts select their own menus from a large array of food items. Diets are designed to supply each astronaut with 100 percent of the daily value of vitamins and minerals neces- sary for the environment of space. For instance, a small woman would require only about 1,900 calories a day, while a large man would require about 3,200 calories. There are also many types of foods an astronaut can choose from such as fruits, nuts, peanut butter, chicken (not me!), beef, seafood, candy, brownies, etc... Drinks range from coffee, tea, orange juice, fruit punches and lemonade.

Foods flown on space missions are researched and developed at the Space Food Systems Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, which is staffed by food scientists, dietitians and engineers. Foods are analyzed through nutritional analysis, sensory evaluation, storage studies, packaging evaluations and many other methods.

Food evaluations are conducted with shuttle flight crews about eight to nine months before the scheduled launch date. During the food evaluation sessions, the astronaut samples a variety of foods and beverages available for flight. Crewmembers choose their menus and can repeat days or not repeat days at their discretion. They plan a breakfast, lunch and dinner; snacks are listed with the meals. Types of food available include rehydratable, thermostabilzed, irradiated and natural form items.
President Bill Clinton prepares to use a fork to sample some space food while visiting NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC). Holding the food packet is U.S. Sen. John H. Glenn Jr. (D.-Ohio), currently in training at JSC as a payload specialist for a flight scheduled later this year aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. Looking on is astronaut Curtis L. Brown Jr., STS-95 commander. The picture was taken in the full fuselage trainer (FFT). Photo Credit: Joe McNally, National Geographic, for NASA

Rehydratable items include both foods and beverages. One way weight can be conserved during launch is to remove water from certain food items. During the flight, water generated by the shuttle fuel cells is added back to the food just before it is eaten.

Foods such as nuts, granola bars and cookies are classified as natural form foods. They are ready to eat, are packaged in clear, flexible pouches that are cut open with scissors, and require no further preparation for consumption in flight.

Did you know salt and pepper are available but only in a liquid form? This is because astronauts can't sprinkle salt and pepper on their food in space. The salt and pepper would simply float away. There is a danger they could clog air vents, contaminate equipment or get stuck in an astronaut's eyes, mouth or nose. 

Dinner is Served on Discovery
On the space shuttle, food is prepared at a galley installed on the orbiter’s middeck. The galley is a modular unit that contains a water dispenser and an oven. The water dispenser is used for rehydrating foods and beverages, and the galley oven is used for warming foods to the proper serving temperature. During a typical meal in space, a meal tray is used to hold the food containers. The tray can be attached to an astronaut’s lap by a strap or attached to a wall. The meal tray becomes the astronaut’s dinner plate and enables the astronaut to choose from several foods at once, just like a meal at home. Without the tray, the contents of one container must be completely consumed before opening another. The tray also holds the food packages in place and keeps them from floating away. Following the meal, food containers are discarded in the trash compartment below the middeck floor. Eating utensils and food trays are cleaned with premoistened, sanitizing towelettes.
The STS-131 Crew share a meal together before launch. I spy Clay! 

Food Supply to the ISS & the importance of WaterFor shuttle flights, the menu planning process starts eight to nine months before the scheduled launch. For station expedi- tions, menu planning is not based on when the crew is sched- uled to launch but rather on when the food for that crew is scheduled to launch. Thus, when a crew arrives on board the station, a good portion of its food is already there.

International Space Station (ISS) crewmembers have a menu cycle of eight days, meaning the menu repeats every eight days. This cycle may be increased to add further variety to the menus. Half of the food system is U.S. and half is Russian; plans are to include foods of other ISS partner countries in the future, including Japan and Canada. The packaging system for the daily menu food is based on single-service, disposable containers. Single-service containers eliminate the need for a dishwasher. Since the electrical power for the ISS is generated from solar panels rather than from fuel cells (as on the shuttle), there is no extra water generated on board the station. Water is recycled from cabin air, but not enough for significant use in the food system. Hence, the percentage of rehydratable foods will decrease and the percentage of the thermostabilized foods will increase over time. However, in general, the ISS food system is similar to the shuttle food system using the same types of food – thermostabilized, rehydratable, natural form, and irradiated – and the same packaging methods and materials. As on the shuttle, beverages on the ISS are in powdered form. The water temperature is different on the station; unlike the shuttle, there is no chilled water. Station crewmembers have only ambient, warm and hot water available to them.

Here's a couple of food packets; a packet of apricot juice, a can of lamb with vegetables, a silver packet with lasagna (grand-ma style!), and a packages of breakd and dried fruit. 

May I take your order?
All ISS increment crewmembers taste or sample every U.S. food item and score (or rate) them based upon how well they like them. Then while training in Russia, they repeat the procedure for the Russian food items. U.S. and Russian dietitians use those scores (or ratings) to plan menus for each Expedition crew.
Once the menu is compiled, the crews attend a training session in Russia to try the actual menu. The crew makes its final changes, and the menu is finalized before it is packaged. The U.S. half of the menu is prepared in Houston and shipped to Florida or Russia depending upon where it is going to be launched. The Russians prepare their half of the menu and launch it on the Progress vehicle. Most of the food is stored in the Zarya and Node 2 modules in Russian food boxes. Fresh items are delivered to station crews when either a shuttle or a Progress docks.

No Iron for me, please!
The amount of iron in an astronaut’s diet should be less than 10 milligrams per day for both men and women. Astronauts have fewer red blood cells while they are in space. Most of the iron absorbed from food goes into new red blood cells. If astronauts were to eat foods high in iron, the iron would be stored in their bodies and could cause health problems.

No Sodium for this Astronium
Sodium and vitamin D affect bone. The amount of sodium in the astronauts’ diet is limited because too much can lead to bone loss as well as other health problems.

Double shot of Vitamin D, please! 
The body usually makes vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight, but spacecraft are shielded to protect the astronauts from harmful radiation. On Earth and in microgravity, people need vitamin D for healthy bones. Vitamin D supplements are recommended for space travelers on the ISS, since the current space foods do not provide enough of this vitamin.

Astro-Sweet-Tooth (AST)
The astronauts can eat warm desserts such as cobbler and bread pudding in space and they can have a meal replacement drink in space that is either vanilla, strawberry or chocolate. 

Peggy Whiteson (remember me and "flat Peggy"?) after her Expedition 5 mission "My favorite space food was peanut butter. I'm not a big fan of it on the ground, but couldn't get enough of it in space.". 

Astronaut Peggy A. Whiteson (right) and Cosmonaut Sergei Y. Treschev, both Expedition 5 flight engineers, share a meal in the Zvezda Service Module on the ISS. 

Holidays in Space
Astronauts Gerald Carr, William Pogue and Edward Gibson celebrated the first Thanksgiving in space in 1973. They were the third crew to live on Skylab.

Thanksgiving was celebrated on Space Shuttle Columbia and the Russian Mir space station in 1996 and 1997. The STS-80 crew celebrated Thanksgiving aboard Columbia in 1996 as Astronaut John Blaha celebrated the holiday on Mir with Russian Cosmonauts Valery Korzun and Kaleri.

Again, Expedition 5 NASA ISS Science Officer Peggy Whitson said that her Thanksgiving in space is one that she will always remember. She wrote, "For Thanksgiving, it was a lot like being home, except that we (Station crew) were hosts to our visiting family/friends (STS-113 Shuttle crew). After a challenging day of work, which included the preparations for and the conduct of a space walk with robotic arm support, we celebrated with smoked turkey in foil pouches, rehydrated mash potatoes (unfortunately sans gravy), and rehydrated green beans with mushrooms (better than it might sound). "Blueberry-cherry cobbler, compliments of our guests, and served on a tortilla was a real dessert treat for the Station crew, since that was not included in our meal rotations. Celebrating this holiday in space with some visiting friends was a very special experience, one that I will remember fondly in Thanksgivings to come."

Cosmonaut Vladimir N. Dezhurov (left) and Mikhail Tyurin, both Expedition 3 flight engineers representing
Rosaviakosmos, eat a Thanksgiving meal in the Zvezda Service Module on the ISS

What's Cooking for the Future?
Two different food systems will be used for future long-duration missions to other planets, one for traveling to and from the distant body and one for use on the surface of the Moon or planet. The transit food system will be similar to the ISS food system with the exception that products with three- to five-year shelf lives will be needed, especially for a mission to Mars. Thus, this part of the trip will be similar to what occurs aboard space missions now – eating out of food packages and heating food items in a similar fashion. 

First there was astronaut ice cream.
Now insects may become the next food
 frontier for space cuisine. The Space Agriculture
 Task Force, affiliated with the Japanese space agency,
is looking for ways to feed astronauts on
 extended missions, like on a stint to Mars.
A long stay on the Red Planet would require
 travelers to grow their own food, but a vegetable-
 and grain-based diet doesn’t efficiently supply fats
 and amino acids.
 Image courtesy of Akiko Yamashita / Discovery Magazine

The surface food system, be it lunar or planetary, will be quite different. It will be similar to a vegetarian diet that someone could cook on Earth – minus the dairy products. Once crewmembers arrive on the surface and establish living quarters, they can start growing crops. Possible crops that could be grown and harvested

include potatoes (sweet and white), soybeans, wheat, peanuts, dried beans, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, herbs, carrots, radishes, cabbage and rice. Once the crops are processed into edible ingredients, cooking will be done in the spacecraft’s galley to make the food items.

BTW - curious what Space Shuttle Commander Steve Lindsey ate for breakfast during Flight Day 2 on STS-104?

Granola w/Raisins - Rehydratable
Breakfast Roll - Fresh Food
Pears - Thermostabilized
Vanilla Breakfast Drink - Beverage
Kona Coffee w/C & S X2 - Beverage
Earl Grey Tea w/ Sugar - Fresh Food 

Astronaut Steven Lindsey, seen here preparing a meal during his most recent shuttle mission in 2006, will lead an all-veteran crew, launching very soon!

Oh, and here is a fun video of Astronaut Soichi making Sushi on the ISS!