Propelled hundreds of miles above Earth into the inky blackness of space for weeks, months or even years at a time, isolation and loneliness are very real realities for astronauts. Ironically, in this extreme and inhospitable environment, the biggest problem is often boredom.
All food headed out of our atmosphere has to be cooked on our home planet, frozen and then dehydrated in a vacuum chamber to make it to space. But before you imagine any Ridley Scott-style survivors huddling around their meagre rations, remember: there’s now a whole industry racing to make space grub more exciting.
So just what do astronauts eat, and how does their zero-gravity lifestyle affect their health and fitness? As part of their Extraordinary Careers, Extraordinary Diets series, Currys have taken a deep dive into the world of anti-gravity dining and fitness to answer the question – just what is ‘out of this world’ dining?
Eating in Zero Gravity
Pack away all pre-conceptions you might have around a low calorie, fitness focussed lifestyle – space food is in plentiful supply and eaten like it’s going out of style, with astronauts chowing down on over 3,000 calories a day. It’s not all superfoods and vegetables either, with dehydrated versions of Earth favourites, such as eggs and waffles, hamburgers, burritos, cheese, and even shrimp cocktail playing a huge part in a spaceman’s daily menu. Sweets are very much allowed, as they tend to survive the trip out of our atmosphere well, while big swigs of coffee are also a must to keep sleepy peepers open to the wonders of space.
With protein, carbs and treat-food a huge part of their diets, you’d be forgiven for wondering how astronauts can be classed as being at peak fitness! The first thing to remember is that these aren’t quite the dinners we’ve come to know and love on Earth – these are packet versions of those foods, which rely on punchy flavours to keep their eaters from culinary boredom in the weeks and months away from home. They’re rigorously tested too: astronauts sit down before a mission to rate their dishes on a 1-9 scale, with shrimp cocktail the ultimate favourite. Scientists think this is because taste buds can take a hit in zero gravity (with astronauts often complaining of feeling ‘clogged up’) and the spices in the shrimp cocktail sauce hit the palate with a real zing! Other spicy condiments like barbecue sauce and tabasco also help to ‘wake up’ astronauts’ taste buds, especially if it’s accompanied by something relatively bland.
The other point to remember is that zero gravity doesn’t just make your body float, it can affect your insides too. NASA expert Dr Scott Smith has hypothesised that the anti-gravity conditions may make the ‘full’ response happen earlier when astronauts eat, meaning that it’s important to pack more calorific foods into a shorter period of time to make sure they’re getting all the nutrients they need.
So why do astronauts need to eat so much food every day? The answer is their punishing fitness regimes, which are essential to make sure they retain muscle and bone density in space. Without the Earth’s gravitational pull to resist, their bodies could waste away on long missions, and they need to keep their bodies moving with resistance training both morning and evening to ensure they’re still the people they were when they return home.
Your average astronaut uses specially made treadmills, with traps engineered to keep them in place, and exercise bikes for a whopping two hours every day to stave off outer space body wastage. So, if you’re planning to eat like astronaut, it’s important to work out like one too!
Eat Like an Astronaut
According to NASA’s literature on space food, a sample menu for a day on the International Space Station could look like this:
- Breakfast: Coffee, shelf-life enhanced waffles, dehydrated eggs, oatmeal, coffee
- Second breakfast: A snack consisting of cheese, biscuits and juice
- Lunch: Soup, stewed beef, juice, fruit, bread
- Supper: Hamburger, eggs, cottage cheese, nuts, bread, sweets and tea
- Alcohol? Once upon a time, astronauts did drink in space, but the International Space Station is now a drink-free zone.
For more inspiration from some of the most extraordinary peoples’ diets, check out the Extraordinary Careers, Extraordinary Diets series on the TechTalk blog.