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How To Stop Your Dinner From Floating Away

Posted September 12, 2007 6:00 AM by M&M_aero
Pathfinder Tags: astronaut food eating food NASA

Labor Day Weekend and summer's last cookout are over, but did you save some leftovers for the astronauts? After all, it's pretty hard for them to throw burgers and dogs on the grill. Food and eating in space pose many problems for NASA engineers. Astronaut food must be safe, nutritious, and free from mold and bacteria. The food and its containers must not weigh too much, nor require excessive water for re-hydration. In addition, the packaging must stabilize the food so that it doesn't float all over the cabin.

Fortunately, NASA has discovered solutions to these problems over the years. Mercury astronauts were given bite-sized cubes, freeze-dried foods and semi-liquids in aluminum toothpaste-type tubes which they squeezed directly into their mouths. Not surprisingly, the crew reported that this food was unappetizing and a lot of work to eat. Gemini astronauts received better food and more options. The bite-sized cubes were encased in an edible gelatin to reduce crumbling, and foods were re-hydrated by adding water through the nozzle of a water gun. The astronauts then kneaded the container to create a puree which they squeezed into their mouths. Apollo astronauts had some added luxuries: heated and chilled water, and the introduction of the "spoon-bowl."

Today's space shuttle astronauts eat foods which adhere to many of these same principles, but which represent even greater advancements. Each space shuttle has a galley which contains hot and cold water dispensers, a pantry, an oven, serving trays, and storage. When preparing meals, the "chef" adds water in pre-measured amounts to foods that need re-hydration, and then places foods that require heating into a forced-air convection oven with a maximum temperature of 180° F (82° C). Drinks are sent up as powders, much like the Kool-Aid or iced-tea mixes we have here on Earth. Water is then added to the powder, and a straw is added to the pouch. When not in use, the straw must be clamped-off in order to keep the drink from floating away.

Space shuttle astronauts eat while "sitting" at a table in mid-deck. Food packages are attached to a serving tray with Velcro. NASA astronauts eat with normal utensils (a fork, spoon, and knife), as well as a small pair of scissors for cutting open the plastic packages. The food is held in containers with a slotted plastic lid which allows an astronaut to eat several different things at the same time - just like we do on Earth. Without the slotted lid, an astronaut would have to eat the entire contents of one package before opening another.

NASA astronauts design their menus approximately 8 - 9 months before their launch date. To ensure that crew members get the necessary nutrients and calories, menus are approved by a nutritionist. To keep their bones strong due to the lack of gravity, astronauts must eat a diet heavy in calcium. They must also eat approximately 2800 calories per day, with 16 - 17% from protein, 30 - 32% from fat, and 50 - 54% from carbohydrates. The food is then prepared and packaged into containers for flight. Additional food packages are added to allow for snacks and in-flight meal changes.

Astronaut food, like all other parts of a launch, is planned meticulously months in advance to make sure that there aren't any errors once the shuttle is launched. But take a moment to think about what you would do if someone tonight asked you what you wanted to eat for dinner in May. And when you look at your plate, be grateful that everything is staying on it and not floating all around you.

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#1

Re: How To Stop Your Dinner From Floating Away

09/12/2007 7:43 AM

<summer's last cookout>

Oh, how terribly 'Northern Hemisphere'.

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#2

Re: How To Stop Your Dinner From Floating Away

09/13/2007 12:44 AM

"it's pretty hard for them to throw burgers and dogs on the grill."

Vent under the grill not over. It sucks the food down onto the grill.

Oh ya vacuum doesn't suck, pressure blows.

Brad

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#3
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Re: How To Stop Your Dinner From Floating Away

09/25/2007 1:15 AM

No air No airflow No effect

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"Multa ferunt anni venientes commoda secum, Multa recedente adimiunt". (The years as they come bring many agreeable things with them; As they go they take many away).
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