What do astronauts eat when they are in space? This page will tell you all about the meals space explorers eat, and how they eat them.

A crew enjoying weightless food

What's so hard about eating in space?

The main problem with eating and drinking in space is that there is no gravity. If you let go of a piece of food in a space craft, it will drift around, not fall to the floor. Water won't stay in a cup, it will float out and hang in the air. Food crumbs and drops of water could float around the spacecraft, make a mess or even damage the the space craft itself.

The first space missions only lasted for a few minutes, so of course there was no need for the crews to eat, but as missions became longer, astronauts had to be fed.

Special ways of packaging and eating foods had to be invented for space meals. Scientists spend lots of time working on foods for space travel, to make sure astronauts stay fit, happy and healthy, so they can be at their best while they are in space.

lunch for an astronaut

The first space foods

The first meals eaten in space were soft, gloopy foods a lot like baby food, packed in tubes like toothpaste. The astronaut squeezed these meals into their mouths!

The first meal an American astronaut ate was apple-sauce. The first Russian astronauts, or cosmonauts as they are known, ate tubes of Borscht, which is a type of Russian vegetable soup. The tube shown here is a tube of Borscht. This early space food was not very good to eat, and astronauts didn't really enjoy it.

An American astronaut called Gus Grissom got into trouble after eating a corned beef sandwich that had been smuggled onto the Gemini 3 space craft. Gus's real name was Virgil, and the character Virgil Tracey, pilot of Thunderbird 2 in the tv series, was named after him!

Early space food packets

Special foods for space travel

As missions became longer, and astronauts complained more about the quality of their food, scientists came up with a new way to provide tasty meals in space.

Freeze dried food was cooked, quickly frozen and then had the water sucked out of it in a vacuum chamber. This food would last ages, without being kept cool in a fridge, and was easy to package and store on board a spacecraft.

Of course there was no water in the food at all, and while some things, like fruit could just be eaten dry, other foods needed to be mixed with water to make them edible. To prepare their meals, astronauts squeezed water into the packet of food, with a water gun, and then ate the moist food after a few minutes.

Astronaut food in a tray from the Skylab missions

Hot meals in space

The NASA Apollo missions, which took men to the moon, lasted several days, so the astronauts had the luxury of hot water to mix into their food to make hot meals! They were able to enjoy hot soup, chicken and rice, spaghetti, beef sandwiches, and even chocolate pudding!

In the 1970's NASA invented a special tray to warm up food, and fridges were added to space craft like the Skylab space station, to keep fresh fruit and vegetables.

By the time the Space Shuttle was flying in the 1980's astronauts were eating varied and complex meals, that looked much like food you would eat at home, including mashed potatoes, bread-pudding and jambalaya. Special scientists who know about nutrition make sure that astronauts always get all their vitamins and their five-a-day fruit and vegetables, even in space!

Japanese food - astronaut style

Great food - in space!

To make sure astronauts are happy while they are in space, especially if they are going to spend a long time in space, scientists invest a lot of effort in working out ways to make their favourite dishes suitable for zero gravity eating.

The International Space station (the ISS) has been home to astronauts of lots of nationalities, and sometimes they have brought foods from their home countries.

In 2008, Gregory Chamitoff brought Jewish bagels with him to the ISS. The picture here shows some Japanese dishes, with noodles in the packet on the right.


How does an astronaut drink in space?

A refreshing

Drinking in space requires special equipment to stop the drink going everywhere. Drinks are usually kept in pouches, with a built in straw. Some missions even carry soft drinks, with special nozzles that dispense the drink straight into the astronaut's mouth. Coca Cola have even designed a Coke dispenser so that space shuttle crews can get a cold soda whenever they want one!

Astronauts enjoying lunch Valentina Tereshkova eating on board Vostok spacecraft Getting space food ready to eat using the full kitchen in the Skylab Space station

Astronauts have developed bowls, trays and cutlery, that hold everything in place with velcro, so they can eat their meals much more like they would eat at home.

Here are three astronauts enjoying a meal together - notice that the food on their trays doesn't fall off because there is no gravity.

Being in space means that astronauts' bodies need different vitamins in their foods to stay healthy.

They need extra calcium and vitamin D, to keep their bones strong, because when you are floating in space bones become weaker - they don't have to work so hard in space!

On board a space shuttle, there is a full kitchen, with hot and cold water and an oven. Great meals can be prepared up in space.

It takes about 20 to 30 minutes to add water and cook a meal in the shuttle, and the washing up is done with special wipes.

Astronaut ice cream Astronaut strawberries

You can buy astronaut food to try yourself at home. It is freeze-dried and comes in lots of varieties.

This is freeze dried ice cream, which is real ice-cream, but doesn't need to be kept in a freezer. It tastes great too!

The process of freeze drying food was invented for space travel, but is now used for everyday foods as well.

Some breakfast cereals now contain freeze dried fruit, similar to these strawberries.

Future space suit.

What will astronauts eat in the future?

Scientists believe that in the future, astronauts will be able to grow their own food. Longer missions, to Mars, or long stays on space stations in the future will require astronauts to be gardeners too!

Astronauts will grow peanuts, spinach, cabbage, lettuce, rice and other vegetables. NASA imagine the crews growing crops that can be turned into bread, pasta, salads, and even soyamilk shakes.

Plants have already been grown in space. These experiments were carried out so scientists could check that it was possible!

visit our learn webpages for more articles about space exploration at www.spacekids.co.uk/learn