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What's It Really Like Living On An Astronaut's Diet?

Updated September 23, 2021 12.1k views18 items

Everything about traveling through space sounds spectacular. From the views to the experience of zero gravity, it seems like it would be an absolute dream. The one thing that sounds like a drag is how NASA feeds astronauts in space. International Space Station food is mostly stuff that won’t go bad. It’s essentially made up of freeze-dried items that will keep astronauts healthy and help them hit their 2,500 daily calorie limit. That may sound like a lot of calories but when you’re eating zero gravity foods, it’s pretty easy to lose your appetite.

So what do astronauts actually eat? Meals in outer space are mostly composed of freeze-dried space food like spinach, tortillas (lots of tortillas), and trail mix, but in the nearly 60 years that humans have been going to space there have been a few astronaut food recipes that have been created on those long nights aboard the ISS.

Astronaut food vs. real food definitely leaves something to be desired, but it’s improving every day. Researchers know that if astronauts had to eat applesauce and tortillas for the entirety of a five year mission to Mars they would jettison their bodies into the vacuum of space, so they’re working on meals that taste good and hold their nutritional value for long periods of time. Some scientists are even working on taking the bodily waste of astronauts and turning that into a meal. Your stomach’s probably growling already.

  • Astronauts Are Experimenting With Growing Their Own Food

    Photo: NASA Johnson / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    The biggest problem with sending food along into space with astronauts is that it takes up room and weighs down the shuttle. Obviously there's no oxygen in space, so it's hard to grow food while in orbit, but it's not impossible. 

    Astronauts are experimenting aboard the ISS by creating a small garden in a sealed chamber. Their first crop, "Outredgeous" lettuce (a red romaine) successfully grew and was edible, so they're adding new crops to their mini-garden. 

  • Astronauts Get To Make Food Requests

    It makes sense that if you're being shot into space for a lengthy period of time that you should get to make a request about some of the food you're going to get to eat. While not every food request complies with NASA's rules, most of the items that astronauts ask for are simple things that remind them of home. 

    The specialty items like Kook-Aid, snack cakes, and instant coffee are packed into a "bonus food container" and sent to space with the rest of the food items. It must be nice to have a taste of home when you're floating through a gravity free computer tube, 238,000 miles away from Earth. 

  • Food Hacks Aboard The ISS Are Ingenious

    Video: YouTube

    Did you really expect some of the top scientists in the world to be okay with eating the same old stuff every day? Of course they're going to put their heads together to figure out how to pump up their meals. While he was in space, famous Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield posted videos where he showed how he concocted a burrito out of some beef steak and red bean/rice MREs, tortillas (obvi), and hot sauce. And while that's impressive it's no Christmas dinner. 

    In 2008 Sandra Magnus, the flight engineer for Expedition 18, put together an entire kitchen and repurposed the food warmer, used foil packets, and gerry-rigged anything that she could get her hands on in order to make mesquite-grilled albacore steaks, cornbread stuffing, and crab salad. She admitted that the Christmas meal didn't compare to anything they could have made on Earth, but that still sounds pretty good. 

    Unfortunately the crew couldn't eat like that every day. Magnus noted that the grilled onions for the meal took three hours to cook in the wood warmer as opposed to the minutes that it would have taken back home. 

  • Tortillas Are An Astronaut's Best Friend

    Photo: jencu / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    The throughline for this list about food in space is the beauty of the tortilla. They're used in lieu of bread and they're incredibly malleable when it comes to snacking. Sandra Magnus, a member of the crew of STS-119 Discovery, wrote a blog for NASA where she touted the importance of tortillas to an astronaut. She wrote that a tortilla is "the vehicle with which to eat almost anything."