By June Cooper
Imagine you’re preparing for a very long trip with no stops: What do you bring with you? Did you remember food? Normally most of us who take car trips or plane rides only have to worry for a short period of time before we can make a pit stop at Steak ‘n Shake or 7-Eleven. A no-stops trip for about four days would be impossible without proper supplies. Now imagine you’re being propelled by a rocket into space, with nothing around, and your favorite type of Fanta floats right into an electrical panel.
Since John Glenn’s first orbit of the Earth (Food), NASA and others have been looking into ways to make food in space last, taste good, and be convenient. The first American mission to the moon with Commander Neil Armstrong took around four days to get onto the moon (Dunbar 2). Within their spaceship, they had to carry their necessary equipment along with food—the kinds that wouldn’t go everywhere in a zero-gravity environment and leave them in trouble. With the average day in space being much like on Earth (Dunbar 1), that’s a lot of time to be avoiding food and using energy without eating. Thus, astronauts have been included in the process of selecting their foods; due to their variety and taste, tortillas have become a staple for astronauts (Space). Taste, however, isn’t the only problem. Astronauts need to get enough nutrients and vitamins throughout their day, and not everything can be supplemented through a pill. Space food ranges from—and is packaged similarly to military meals. Most food is freeze-dried and made to be prepared with water (Food), but where did we get freeze-dried foods?
Freeze-drying food is a practice that started in what seems to be the 15th to 16th century, but many different people have been credited with starting the practice, from Peruvian Incas in the Andes to Jacques-Arsene d’Arsonval, but the practice could have started almost anywhere. According to a New York Times article, “A Space-Age Food Product Cultivated by the Incas,” Peruvian Incas developed freeze-drying to meet the needs of those traveling across their harsh terrain; they had to find a way to transport food in a way that was convenient and safe—much like one would for space. Their food of choice for this process was the potato (Romero).
For our later-accredited source, Jacques-Arsene d’Arsonval’s WWII-era invention was used to preserve blood before the process was introduced to foods (Freeze). In this instance, the process we know today that takes the moisture out of troubling food products for zero gravity started as a tool for the medical field. Inventions and ideas like freeze-drying often become useful beyond the problem they were created to solve. For example, Jacques-Arsene d’Arsonval set out to help doctors preserve fresh blood but ended up helping people preserve food (Freeze).
Food both on and off our own table has a story we might not know, and won’t know without taking the time to document and understand its history. Indeed, before you take your next bite, you might consider the origin of the foods in front of you.
Dunbar, B. (n.d.). “An Astronaut’s Work.” Retrieved October 11, 2020, from https://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/9-12/features/F_Astronauts_Work.html
Dunbar, B. (2015, February 19). July 20, 1969: “One Giant Leap For Mankind.” Retrieved from https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/apollo/apollo11.html
Freeze-Drying Fundamentals. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ift.org/news-and-publications/food-technology-magazine/issues/2018/february/columns/processing-freeze-drying-foods
Food in Space. (n.d.). Retrieved October 11, 2020, from https://airandspace.si.edu/exhibitions/apollo-to-the-moon/online/astronaut-life/food-in-space.cfm
Romero, S. (2016, August 10). A Space-Age Food Product Cultivated by the Incas. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/11/world/what-in-the-world/andes-incas-chuno.html
Space food: From creation to consumption. (2020, April 01). Retrieved October 11, 2020, from https://spacecenter.org/space-food-from-creation-to-consumption/