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I love that you asked this question because it really gets at the soul of cooking and eating—on and off Earth. Part of what makes food so wonderful, is its ability to bring people together. Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) enjoy eating together and even take turns “hosting” one another on special occasions or for weekend meals. The ISS includes a dining module and kitchen table for this purpose!
I found a great video that you might enjoy watching. Apparently Thanksgiving dinner made its way to the ISS last year, and this video shows three NASA astronauts displaying their special foods for this American holiday: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81Cjb9-gnuY
Do you have a favorite holiday? How would you recreate this experience (tradition, ritual, food, culture, etc.) in space?
Hi Damian and family!
Thanks for your interest in space food! Short answer is YES, you can heat up food in space. Here’s how:
In the International Space Station, NASA astronauts use a special small warming oven to heat up their food. It looks like a metal briefcase! You can see it in action in this video (fast forward to 6:27mins): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8-UKqGZ_hs
The company Zero G Kitchen invented a new space oven so that astronauts could COOK AND BAKE in space. It’s already on the International Space Station, and ready to use if you have any ideas (hint, hint)! Astronauts aren’t using this as part of their regular routine (yet) since it’s still in testing mode. It’s no surprise that the first thing they tested was…(drum roll please)…COOKIES! You can learn about this new invention here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbeKkOBabZY&t=25s
What would you want to cook in space?
Thanks for sharing your favorite meal. I hope to try it one day!
First, the challenges (or design opportunities!) in zero g:
– Separating the egg white from the yolk
– Keeping the avocado fresh (this is difficult on Earth too)
– Crumb flyaways from the bagel
– Prepare and package the egg white component before sending it to space
– In an ideal scenario, we could grow avocados in space! Otherwise, the green edible insides would need to be freeze-dried, and then rehydrated in space.
– Layer a few tortillas (less crumbs) and cut a hole in the middle with scissors so it looks like a bagel…ha!
– The raspberry iced tea flavor could be made into powdered juice in a foil pouch. I love the popping SOUND the Snapple bottle makes when you open to it, so I might listen to this sound with my headphones while drinking the ice tea to get the full sensory experience.
– You could use Virtual Reality to “visit” your favorite restaurant in Davis Square!
To answer your final question, YES, we are researching closed-loop food systems for space. Fermentation is one of the ways we’re exploring this topic. Learn more here: http://www.media.mit.edu/projects/space-fermentation/overview/
Let me know if you have any other questions!
I also LOVE cheeseburgers, so you’re not alone. Thankfully, NASA’s space food researchers have developed a beef patty specifically for space.
Here’s a picture of one of the samples I have at home with me. It’s been freeze-dried, which is a process of food preservation by removing the water content. Before an astronaut eats it, they have to rehydrate it at a special rehydration station in the International Space Station. That’s why there’s a nozzle at the top of the package, and the label on the package says to “add 50 mL of hot water and wait 10-15min”. Voila! You can even see grill marks on the beef patty, which might help remind astronauts of barbecuing with family and friends back home.
Burger buns are more challenging in space because astronauts need to avoid crumb flyaways in zero g! They often use tortillas as a replacement for most bread products. Maybe YOU could invent a CRUMBLESS BURGER BUN!
Last but not least…the CHEESE. Astronauts have liquid cheese in space. I prefer the ooey-gooey real stuff, but in space we sometimes need to make compromises.
Thanks for bringing up the possibility of growing meat in space. There are researchers who are thinking about this as a possible substitute in space, AND on Earth. It’s fascinating to imagine what a future lab-grown SPACE BURGER might look like, and how the zero-g environment could inspire and even enable new forms.
There sure are! NASA astronauts have a menu of roughly 200+ foods and beverages to choose from. You can see a full list of the menu items on page 3 of this doc: http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/190537main_Classifying_Space_Food.pdf
Most space food products are dehydrated before they get sent to the International Space Station. The process of preparing food in space involves rehydrating it at the rehydration station, or heating it up between two heating pads in a special space oven that looks like a briefcase. Mixing and transferring ingredients is difficult in zero g, so food is typically eaten right out of the plastic packaging.
Here’s a cool video that shows ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti preparing a meal in zero g: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4exaXdPKS3Y
Do you have any ideas for a future space food meal?
That’s a great question! For our readers who may not have tasted kimchi, it’s a traditional Korean dish made from fermented cabbage, other vegetables and a selection of special spices. Not only is it delicious, but it can improve your gut health! Did you know that your gut health is linked to mood and behaviour? These are a few of the reasons we’re developing fermented food products for astronauts.
Kimchi was a really difficult dish to turn into a space-ready meal. On Earth, fermented food is “alive”, and gets its deep flavours and aroma from microbes, including happy bacteria! To send kimchi to space, researchers had to make sure it was bacteria-free, while keeping its special taste and texture. They couldn’t package it in vacuum-sealed plastic bags like normal space food because they were worried the gas released from the fermented food might cause it to bubble up and possibly explode (bad news for space)! The final kimchi product was sent in cans.
If you’re interested, you can learn more about how kimchi went to space here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/22/world/asia/22iht-kimchi.1.10302283.html
Something else I learned from this article, is that the invention of space kimchi led researchers to find a way to “slow down the fermentation process” so they could ship it all around the world. This is a great example of how developing space food can help our food system here on Earth as well.
I hope that answers your question. It’s a big topic, so if you have other questions or ideas for fermented food products in space let us know!