Radiation Space Steak: 15 Facts About Food in Space

What's with the Tang?
Radiation Space Steak: 15 Facts About Food in Space

Being in space means giving up a lot of creature comforts -- showers, sex, gravity, etc. It’s worth it to experience the awe-inspiring void of the universe, we guess, but the facts of everyday life we take for granted, down to eating a sandwich, become vastly more complicated in space. If you’re an aspiring astronaut, here’s hoping you like ingesting powder.

What’s With the Tang?

Orange drink


That’s actually why Tang became the space beverage of choice. You can’t have orange juice (or soda -- we’ll get to that in a minute) because it has to be refrigerated, so the next best thing was freeze-dried, suspicious orange powder.

Radiation Space Steak


(Emerson Vieira/Unsplash)

One of the scarier-sounding ways of preserving food is with a healthy (allegedly) dose of radiation, although for some reason, steak is the only product served up this way. You might wanna stick with the freeze-dried stuff until you go totally crazed, Matrix-style.

Food Tastes Different in Space

Not to get too gross -- although the implications are even grosser -- but the fluids inside our bodies react to low gravity the same way as everything else, i.e. they go up. That means astronauts always feel like they’re fighting off a wicked head cold, which means, among other things, that their senses of smell and taste are diminished. It’s the same reason airplane food tastes bland, multiplied by a thousand.

Liquid Seasonings

Salt and pepper

(Josh Massey/Unsplash)

That means, of course, that they’re inclined to pile on the salt and pepper, but low gravity makes that a problem, too. One harmless shake of salt, and before you know it, everyone is dodging the grains floating around in the air, and your food still sucks. Instead, astronauts use liquid salt and pepper.

Space Kimchi

The inherent blandness of space food is probably what made kimchi, those delicious shreds of spicy and sour fermented cabbage, such a hot commodity that three government agencies spent over a million dollars and several years developing a version that could be sent into space with South Korea’s first astronaut in 2008.

Water Guns and Special Straws

Water gun

(Yasin Arıbuğa/Unsplash)

For the same reason astronauts get head colds, you can’t just turn on a faucet in space, leading to one of the radder space food solutions: water guns. They use them to squirt water and other liquids into pouches attached to special straws with clamps so your Tang doesn’t shoot out the moment you turn your head.

Old School Food Tubes

Russian space food

(Benutzer:HPH/Wikimedia Commons)

That packaging took a long time to figure out. When Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, and the first man to eat in space, in 1961, he sucked pureed meat and chocolate sauce out of aluminum tubes.

Keeping Your Food Down

Food tray on the ISS with items held down by Velcro, springs, and magnets

(NASA/Wikimedia Commons)

No, this isn’t about space sickness, which is a thing. You can’t just set the space table like you would at home, so astronauts use Velcro, tape, magnets, and other sticky things to keep their packages of vacuum-sealed food and utensils from wandering away.

Staying Irregular

What you eat before you take off is also an important consideration, or at least it was back in the day. Before Alan Shepherd, John Glenn, and Gus Grissom boarded the Freedom 7 in 1961, they sat down to a NASA-mandated “low residue” breakfast of meat and eggs because of the logistical nightmare of pooping in space, which is a whole other thing.

The ISSpresso

Zero G espresso cup

(NASA/ISS Research/Wikimedia Commons)

If you wanted a cup of joe with that fiber-free breakfast, you were largely stuck with the instant B.S. until 2015, when the delightfully named ISSpresso machine was developed. Naturally, it was first sampled by an Italian astronaut.

Carbonated Drinks Will Make Everyone (Including You) Hate You

If you prefer your caffeine in the form of questionably colored fizz, you’re in for a rough time. Not only is it tricky to keep soda from going flat during space travel, the lack of gravity means it tends to produce, in scientific terms, “wet burps.”

Space Beer

Of course, that hasn’t stopped people from trying to make space beer work. Researchers from the University of Colorado managed to brew a tiny amount of beer in space (and found it got them way more blitzed than normal beer), and an Australian beer company is working on creating a beer that can be drunk in space. For now, at least you can get beer from space, made using yeast and barley that’s been on the International Space Station.


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