Eating In Space

Like many other activities in space, eating requires some special considerations. While orbiting around the Earth, astronauts live and work in microgravity so crumbs and dry foods (such as powders and condiments) float and, if not contained, can contaminate the environment.

Robert Thirsk (left) and the crew of Expedition 20/21

Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut Robert Thirsk (left) and the crew of Expedition 20/21 share a meal during their 6-month long mission on board the International Space Station (ISS). (Credit: NASA)

Several practical solutions exist to overcome the challenges of eating in weightlessness. Astronauts consume mostly wet and sticky foods such as oatmeal, scrambled eggs, puddings and stews because they stick to an eating utensil long enough for the astronaut to put into their mouth. Foods like bread are rejected because they produce crumbs that can float around; tortillas, on the other hand, are perfect for eating in freefall. Salt and pepper are also consumed, but the salt must be dissolved into water and the pepper suspended in oil.

Astronauts select some of the foods they want to eat in space several months before launch. Since there are limited refrigeration capabilities on the International Space Station (ISS), foods are processed and packaged in ways that will ensure they last for the entire mission.

Space-bound foods come in one of six forms

  • Fresh (must be eaten within the first few days in space) e.g. apples, oranges
  • Intermediate Moisture e.g. dried apricots, dried beef
  • Irradiated e.g. beefsteak
  • Natural Form e.g. tortillas, cashews
  • Rehydratable e.g. oatmeal with raisins, teriyaki vegetables
  • Thermostabilized e.g. tuna salad spread, split pea soup

All drinks, which include things like coffee, tea, and lemonade, are rehydratable.

Take a peek at Chris Hadfield's menu during Mission Expedition 34/35.

Good Nutrition to Lessen the Impact of Microgravity on the Body

Julie Payette

Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut Julie Payette prepares a tortilla with Quebec maple butter during Mission STS-127. (Credit: NASA)

Most food on the ISS is provided through the permanent ISS menu. This eight-day menu has been developed to ensure that astronauts have a balanced diet while living in space and consists of three meals and one snack daily. Good nutrition plays an important role in lessening the negative effects that microgravity has on the body (such as bone and muscle loss). Dieticians ensure that the menus are nutritionally balanced and contain between 1900 and 3200 calories per day, depending on the astronaut's weight and gender.

To add more variety to the standard ISS menu crewmembers can fill bonus food containers with some of their favorite foods, as long as the foods are suitable for space. They can select more of their favorite foods from the permanent ISS menu or they can select commercially available food (i.e. food found in grocery stores). This gives astronauts a chance to bring a reminder of home with them to space.

Eating Canadian, eh?

While Chris Hadfield is living on the ISS, he and his crewmembers will be able to enjoy some Canadian foods.  Most of the Canadian foods are flying in bonus containers and will be delivered to the ISS in the fall of 2012 and winter of 2013.

The Canadian menu for Expedition 33/34/35 is made up of Canadian foods that have flown on previous missions (Expedition 19/20 and STS-127) and new foods that were identified through a market survey, conducted in 2010 to 2011, and the Snacks for Space contest, conducted in 2011.

To select the Canadian menu for Expedition 33/34/35 Canadian Space Agency (CSA) experts evaluated a wide selection of Canadian foods to determine if they met spaceflight criteria and ranked them based on taste, color, odor and texture.

The key spaceflight criteria included (but were not limited to):

  • long shelf-life,
  • does not produce many crumbs,
  • can be prepared on orbit using the ISS galley (water dispenser, convection oven) and
  • can be easily consumed on orbit. 

The top 35 items were selected to make up the Canadian menu.

The Canadian foods that will be available on orbit during Expedition 33/34/35 include:

Candied Wild Smoked Salmon (SeaChange)

One of the Canadian food items selected for Chris Hadfield's mission.

  • Les Canardises Duck Rillettes
  • Trails End Buffalo Stix Cranberry Craze*
  • SeaChange Candied Wild Smoked Salmon*
  • SeaChange Smoked Salmon Pate*
  • SeaChange Smoked Sockeye Salmon
  • West Coast Select Salmon Jerky Original
  • Brunswick Seafood Snacks Herring in lemon and cracked pepper
  • Brunswick Sardines in mustard sauce
  • Brunswick Sardines with hot peppers
  • SoSoya+ Crunchers unsalted (soy nuts)
  • HapiFoods Group Holy Crap Cereal*
  • Profitapom CroustiPom (dried apple chunks)*
  • Taste of Nature Nova Scotia Blueberry Fields Snack Bars
  • Honey Bar Trail Mix Bar
  • Sun-Rype FruitSource Blueberry Pomegranate Fruit Bar*
  • Sun-Rype FruitSource Strawberry Fruit Bar*
  • Sun-Rype Fruit-to-go Wildberry Fruit Snack
  • Sun-Rype Fruit-to-go Raspberry Fruit Snack
  • Dole Squish'ems! Apple Strawberry Squeezable Snack
  • Fruit d'Or Dried Cranberries Original
  • Leclerc Praeventia - Orange zest with green tea extract cookies*
  • L.B. Maple Treat Maple Syrup Cream Cookies*
  • Turkey Hill Sugarbush Maple Syrup*
  • Citadelle Maple Hard Candies
  • Four O'clock Maple Herbal Tea
  • Tim Hortons English Toffee Cappuccino
  • Tim Hortons French Vanilla Cappuccino
  • Brookside Dark Chocolate Covered Cranberries
  • Whistler Pocket Chocolate – Milk*
  • Reese Bites (Reese Bouchées)*
  • Mars Candy Bar*
  • Smarties*
  • Honibe Honeydrop*
  • Rogers Chocolates – Maple Chocolate, Dark Chocolate, Milk Chocolate Bars
  • Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory – Milk, Dark and White Chocolate Maple Leafs

*Items selected through the Snacks for Space contest.

Common trade names are for the purpose of product identification only. No endorsement of any product in particular is implied.

Meal Preparation

Astronauts prepare their meals based on instructions printed on a label attached to each food item. This label also states the best before date of the food.

Although fresh and natural-form foods can be eaten straight out of the package, most meals require preparation. To prepare rehydratable meals and beverages, an astronaut must remove the plastic covering at one end of the package and connect it to a water dispenser, to inject a specific amount of hot or cold water. Rehydratable, thermostabilized and irradiated items can be warmed in a forced air convection oven.

In addition to regular utensils, food trays are equipped with scissors to cut open the food packages to remove bite-sized pieces of food. All drinks are consumed through a straw to prevent liquid from escaping. When the meal is finished, empty packages are discarded and trays and utensils are cleaned with pre-moistened towelettes.