- You want the cold hard truth?
Astronauts don't really eat the chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry freeze-dried stuff we call ice cream, oof, found in every science museum gift shop.
(humming) I'm Sheril Kirshenbaum, and on this episode of Serving Up Science, we're talking about food that's out of this world.
And stick around 'til the end to find out an orbit-friendly snack that you can find at your local grocery store.
Humans have been orbiting Earth for decades.
But when they finally make it to Mars, how will they prepare food for 80 million mile, three-year mission without the convenience of grocery stores and fertile soil?
(buzzer buzzing) The first person to eat anything in space, John Glenn, didn't have a lot of options.
Mercury astronauts of the early 1960s brought bite-sized cubes, freeze-dried powders, and aluminum tubes of semi-solids on their missions to space, which...
Probably weren't too tasty.
Eating from the tubes was a pain, and rehydrating the freeze-dried stuff was challenging too.
Mm, freeze-dried food.
Any crumbs left behind had the potential to cause major problems if they got into the equipment.
- Careful, they're ruffled!
- By the mid 60s, space food got a little better.
During the Gemini missions, a special plastic container was invented to improve reconstituting food.
- [Woman] Try the freeze-dried strawberries.
Have you ever had them?
- I love them!
I ate them all the time.
Gelatin was added around those bite-sized cubes to reduce crumbling, and astronauts could enjoy more variety in their diets.
Thanks to Johnson Space Center, we have some examples today of what you might find on the shuttle, like vegetarian chili.
Looks good, doesn't it?
(camera snapping) Or... Vegetarian chili!
In a different container.
(camera snapping) To butterscotch pudding.
I think we have some of that somewhere here.
Nope, that's sweet 'n sour chicken.
(camera snapping) But certain things, like candies, nuts, even dried fruits, are allowed as-is, provided they meet microbial requirements and don't need to change state before eating.
- So here we have-- - Shape or state?
(laughing) They don't need to change shtate!
Well, that might be the Russian on the back, shtate.
- [Woman] That's just Sean Connery talking.
(laughing) - Our food can't change shtate.
By the early 1970s, Apollo astronauts were able to use hot water to rehydrate meals and brought thermal stabilized pouches, or packaging that was treated and sealed to prevent food from spoiling and heat-processed to destroy harmful germs and enzymes.
Still tasting strawberry.
A new Skylab featured a dining room and table where three-member teams can sit.
Well, sort of sit, 'cause they were still in space.
And they could use utensils, and there was even a freezer and refrigerator, as well as an extensive menu with 72 different options.
But you're still not allowed to bring anything like, say... Peas, that can get loose and clog up instruments.
No peas allowed.
Salt and pepper are available, but they've been suspended in liquid, probably a little bit of a different experience.
Now keep in mind, orbiting around Earth isn't exactly easy on our bodies.
Upon entering zero gravity, the fluid in astronauts' legs and the lower parts of the body move up toward the head, making the person's face feel and look swollen.
The first few days of flight can be dizzying and cause an upset stomach.
With more fluid in the head, space travel can feel like having a head cold without being sick.
And that dulls our sense of taste, so many astronauts prefer spicier foods in orbit.
There's even sriracha in space.
As for a future trip to Mars, scientists are working hard to expand the shelf life of space food, which would need to last for five years, and we're not there yet.
And then there's also the mass and weight challenges of getting that food all the way to Mars.
We don't have a Mars planet, but you get the idea.
The average distance between Earth and the International Space Station is 240 miles, or close to 400 kilometers.
At that distance, we resupply the space station every three months with food that needs to be shelf-stable for a year and a half.
Mars is much further away, varying between 33.9 million and 250 million miles from Earth, and I hope we show what that is in kilometers somewhere in this clip.
(dinging) Sending food and other supplies to a team out there would take more than 26 months, assuming all goes according to plan, and that means food delivery to Mars is really complicated.
I'm just gonna keep snacking.
But there is a good deal of exciting research happening to address those challenges, including farming experiments in space.
- I colonized Mars.
- Astronauts are now growing lettuce using blue, red, and green light-emitting diodes, or LEDs.
The ice cream is making my mouth feel weird.
The lettuce only actually needs the reds and blues, but 5% of the LEDs are green because those make lettuce look more appetizing to eat.
And that means NASA scientists aren't just thinking about taste and nutrition, they're also thinking about psychology of food choices.
It really sticks to the back.
And what about that perfect space food I mentioned?
The one that you can find right now in a supermarket near you.
High in protein, has no crumbs, lasts for years, and is popular all around the world.
Except among those with allergies.
Have you guessed?
Perfect space food is... (bell ringing) Peanut butter!
It'd be so cool if you guys could give me a laser sword, like... (imitating lasers) Can you add it, can you add it?
I'm about to get a whole new fanbase.
(laughing) (smooth music)