Monday, September 17, 2012

Food for Space Travelers

Astronauts Andre Kulpers (R) and Michael Foale enjoying a breakfast of Dutch cheese
aboard the International Space Station

I am a proud fan of NASA and I'm really sad to see it fade away. It's one of the USA's greatest achievements. Like many people of my generation, it was an important part of our growing-up. We knew the seven original astronauts and everything about them. We hoped to travel to space in our lifetimes. Oh well. Not gonna happen. 

Still though, it's interesting to watch the news from NASA. They're always up to something interesting, even it's only to announce that the Perseid meteor shower will be brighter than normal this year. 

This morning, there was news that a joint US-Russian team had just landed a Soyuz spacecraft in Kazakhstan. OK, that's nice, but what did they have to eat? You don't hear much anymore about freeze-dried ice cream or Tang, so I decided to take a look back. 

Here's a quote from a New York Times article from 1965 about the challenges of eating in space. Enjoy - and tell me what you think (please send comments to the blog-thanks) 

"Majors James A. McDivitt and Edward H. White 2d are trying to settle down to a relatively normal life in space--eating, sleeping and working. But they are having some problems. Both astronauts have toothbrushes, packaged with their first meals, but they have no toothpaste. Why? 'The problems is, where do you spit?' explained a Whirlpool Corporation spokesman. Whirlpool was charged with the responsibility of developing the food, personal hygiene and waste management system for project Gemini, and it had to use quite a bit of imagination to deal with the problems. In the case of food, Whirlpool had to develop palatable meals amounting to about 2,500 calories a day that the astronauts coudl store and eat in space. The foods had to use a minimum amount of space, to be compatible with cecompression and to be storable for long periods without spoiling. Also they had to be packaged so the astronauts could get to the food, eat it, and then ge rid of the uneaten portion without making a mess of the tiny cockpit. Dealing with the storage problem was relatively easy because most foods are between 50 and 99 per cent water. By dehydrating the foods, their volume was substantially reduced. The lack of water also prevents any bacterial action that could produce spoilage. About half the foods on the menu have to be reconstituted with water. The foods are contained in plastic airtight envelopes with one-way valves. To rehydrate the food, the astronaut inserts a devise that looks like a water pistol. By squeezing the trigger, the astronaut injects water into the food envelope. Once the water is inside, the astronaut kneads the food and water until it achieves the proper consistency. When he is ready to eat, the astronaut cuts into the plastic envelope and removes a plastic funnel-like tube. He places the tue in his mouth and squeezes the food out. Having eaten, the astronaut drops a small tablet into the food envelope and seals it. This tablet reactivates the refuse chemically so that it does not rot and develop noxious gases. Some of the foods, such as bacon-and-egg bites, red cubes, or cheese cubes, do not have to be reconstituted. But these have to be prevented from making crumbs that can float around the cockpit. The cubes are all bite-sized, so the astronaut can chew with his mouth closed. As a further safeguard against crumbs, which were a problem in some Project Mercury flights, all the cubes are coated with a starch called Amylomaize, which holds in the crumbs. The individual foods are packed in a flour-ply plastic that performs a variety of functions. The innermost layer is a good-grade polyethylene that is compatible with food. The second layer is a nylon film to givce the package burst and kneading strength. The third layer is a fluorocarbon film called Aclar, which prevents the passage of oxygen and water. And the outside layer is another polyethylene that gives heat-sealability to the envelope. At the end of the meal, the astronauts may brush their teeth--without toothpaste. They are also provided with two sticks of commercial chewing gum with each meal and a small 4-by-4-inch rayon towel that has been impregated with an antibacterial substance used in commercial baby preparations."
---"Food is Problem for Astronauts," Frederic C. Appel, New York Times, June 6, 1965 (p. 70) 


S.Baker said...

I thought this article was very interesting, i have heard of NASA using dehydrated food before but it never knew that they reconstituted it, i just thought they at it as is. Also even though the hole process is cool, i think that the idea of eating reconstituted food mush trough a funnel doesn't seem that appetizing

Food in Atlanta said...

This is my first time on your blog, and I think it is very unique and cool. I am not sure about reconstituted food either, but dehydrated food is delicious. I just pulled some dehydrated kale out of the dehydrator.