Bacon rashers in space
THESE days, getting food delivered to your doorstep is a fairly easy affair, particularly if you live in a big city.
There’s a veritable buffet of fast food delivery services, along with easy to use apps that can have you chowing down in a matter of minutes - even in more rural areas like ours.
But there is a least one frontier the armies of convenient food dispensary have yet to conquer - space. No one delivers pizza in space. It’s sad but true. If you want to grow up to be an astronaut someday, don’t do it for the fancy meals.
Eating in space presents some unique challenges for astronauts.
For a start, the lack of gravity means that if you let go of a piece of food, it will float off and drift around your space vehicle. So too for cups of liquid. Liquid won’t stay in a cup, it, too, will float out and hang in the air.
To allow astronauts to stay in space for days or weeks at a time, scientists had to invent specialised ways of packaging and eating foods in space.
The first such space foods were soft foods (kind of like baby food) packaged in tubes like toothpaste.
For example, John Glenn became the first U.S. astronaut to eat in space when he ate applesauce from an aluminum tube during a 1962 Mercury space mission.
He had to squeeze the food into his mouth.
If that doesn’t sound very appetising to you, you’re not alone.
Astronauts weren’t about it either.
Eventually, scientists developed better, tastier foods that were easier to eat.
Freeze-drying was one such method of transporting more nutritious food into space.
Food was cooked, quickly frozen, and then dehydrated in a special vacuum chamber.
This meant that the food didn’t need to be refrigerated and would last a long time.
To consume the freeze-dried foods, astronauts squeeze hot water into the food packages and then eat the food after it absorbs the water.
Some freeze-dried foods, like fruit, can be eaten dry.
In fact, you may eat astronaut food from time to time without realising it.
Today, many breakfast cereals include freeze-dried fruits, like strawberries, that add color and flavor to an otherwise bland breakfast.
Astronauts flying modern space shuttle missions now eat many of the same foods they eat on Earth.
Food still needs to be dehydrated or prepared in special ways, but space shuttles now have full kitchens with hot water and an oven.
In fact, in one of Heston Blumenthal’s exactly crazy recent specials, he prepared gourmet meals for British astronaut Tim Peake to take with him to the International Space Station, including zero-gravity bacon sandwiches, packed inside airtight tins.
Astronauts can also use condiments, like ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise, in packets to add flavor. Salt and pepper can be used, too, but they have to be used in a liquid form because otherwise the grains would just float away.
Drinks are also dehydrated and kept in powder form in special pouches.
The pouches have built-in straws or special nozzles that let astronauts drink straight from the pouch since gravity makes drinking from a cup a messy idea.
To make sure their food doesn’t float off, astronauts attach their food containers and utensils to special trays with Velcro fasteners.
The trays also fasten to their laps, so they can enjoy a meal while sitting down.
Nutritionists plan astronaut meals to make sure they get all of the nutrients and vitamins they need to perform their important work in space, as some astronauts begin to experience digestive problems after they’ve been in space a long time.
So the next time you order a pizza to be delivered to yuor doorstep, spare a thought for the astronauts out there, and the complexity of the task to feed them.