September 01, 2007

Space Food

As you’ve read elsewhere in this issue, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky was the world’s first great theoretician of interplanetary flight. He believed in the power of man to overcome time and space and settle freely throughout the universe. Tsiolkovsky posited that new generations of perfected humans would be able to survive without food as we understand it, like plants deriving most of their necessary nutrients from the rays of the sun.

Although most of Tsiolkovsky’s eccentric theories have been disproved, Russian cosmonauts and American astronauts did begin traveling in space not terribly long after his death. And of course they needed food. In 1963, the Russian Academy of Sciences began formulating space-age foods at Moscow’s Institute of Medico-Biological Problems. The first space foods were semi-liquid, packed into toothpaste-like tubes. The problem was that they didn’t satisfy hunger, and the cosmonauts complained. The menu was then developed to include more appealing foods, like jellied beef tongue, fish pies, and Pozharsky cutlets. 

By the early 1980s, more than two hundred different items were on the cosmic menu. But in the late 1980s and 1990s, with Russia’s social upheavals, the Institute’s funding disappeared, so in 1994 the Americans stepped in to help. Today, half of the food for the International Space Station is supplied by the Americans, and half by the Russians. Most of the American products are packaged in the retort pouches that were developed for military rations. They are precooked and then heated in a compact electric oven in the ISS’s Zvezda service module. 

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