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Field Journal

Eating on the ISS

by Vickie Kloeris
Interviewed by: Lori Keith
May 1, 2001

In my last journal, I talked about the shuttle food system. This time, I thought I'd share a little with you about the International Space Station (ISS) food system. The ISS food system uses a combination of the U.S. shuttle space food and Russian space food. Half of what the crew members eat is Russian food. The Russians use the same methods of preservation, which I talked about in my last journal, but their packaging is a little different.

A lot of the foods sent to station are commercial food products, like we use here on earth, that are purchased from the manufacturer. All of these food products are microbiologically tested for safety, analyzed for nutritional assessment, and evaluated by a sensory panel to ensure palatability. Just because a food is safe and nutritional, if it's not pleasing to the tastebuds, none of the astronauts will want to eat it.

Some of the astronauts say their tastebuds change a bit, when they are in microgravity. (At this point, there is no scientific data in this area, although I would be quite interested in this.) Some of the crewmembers prefer their food to be spicier and more tart. Microgravity causes bodily fluids to shift and many astronauts undergo head congestion, at least the first few days of flight. Just like having a cold, this congestion causes food to taste a bit off.

Photo of crewmembers taste testing food in the labBefore flight, during training, the astronauts come to the Food Lab to taste test the food they will be eating on orbit. This helps them in selecting their own menus. Once they have chosen their own menus, the dietitians analyze their chooses for nutritional assessment to make sure all their nutritional needs are met. Once this is complete, then production and stowage process of the food begins.

The menus are pulled and sorted, using color-coded dots. Each crewmember is assigned a color. Then these items are sorted by meal into individual trays. Each tray is labeled, then stowed into racks/lockers. Then the food is shipped to the Kennedy Space Center, arriving 10 to 14 days prior to launch, to be loaded onto the shuttle.

Photo of space food labelEach individual food package has a bar-code on it that is scanned when it is taken for consumption. This helps keep an exact record of what each crewmember eats, which can be important when medical research that requires dietary monitoring is being performed during a flight. For flights where exact dietary monitoring is not required, a short Food Frequency Questionnaire is done on a regular basis by the crewmembers. This allows medical personnel to know that the astronauts are getting enough vitamins, minerals, protein, and other essential nutrients to keep them healthy. For the time being, each food package's label is in English and Cyrillic (Russian), but soon they will be in English only, as that is the official language of the ISS.

The U.S. sends about 200 different food items to the ISS, but unfortunately we can not send ice cream or pizza, because there is no freezer. These are the items the astronauts would love to take! During the Apollo program, freeze-dried ice cream was developed and flown on one flight, but isn't really like ice cream. It is sold in the gift shops at the visitor's centers, but is not flown on the shuttle or the ISS.

Photo of Russian space food -- borsch with meatPhoto of Russian food -- sauerkraut soup

The Russians have about 100 different food items in their program, and there are some definite cultural differences -- like we traditionally eat eggs and bacon for breakfast, whereas the Russians traditionally like fish products for breakfast.

Photo of astronaut drinking Coke on the shuttleOne of the items the astronauts might like to have when they are on orbit is soda, or carbonated beverages. Many years back, they decided to fly the soft drink Coca Cola® on the shuttle. First, it had to be packaged in a special can to keep it under pressure so it wouldn't lose its carbonation, and to keep it under pressure so the soda and the carbonation would not separate in microgravity. Not only is carbonation difficult in microgravity, it causes you to burp. On earth, that's not such a big deal, but in microgravity it's just gross! Because there is no gravity, the contents of your stomach float and tend to stay at the top of your stomach, under the rib cage and close to the valve at the top of your stomach. Because this valve isn't a complete closure (just a muscle that works with gravity), if you burp, it becomes a wet burp from the contents in your stomach. I've been told this is NOT pleasant!


To check out an archived webcast about space food, go to: http://quest.arc.nasa.gov/ltc/ram/jsc030101-v.ram





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