Space Food: The Best and Worst

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Astronaut foods during the Gemini and Apollo programs were highly processed, because "low-residue" food meant fewer encounters with the dread fecal bag. To prevent crumbs, which could float into eyes and instrumentation panels, many foods - even "sandwiches" -- took the form of bite-sized cubes lacquered with waxy, congealed oils. Rarely has anything so cute been so loathed. The coating stuck to the roof of the mouth and the cubes had to be rehydrated by "holding in the mouth for ten seconds."

Runner-up: dehydrated "astronaut ice cream." Only three astronauts (Apollo 8) ever ate it in space, and not very much of it. Without "the creamy, icy sensation of regular ice cream," writes retired NASA food scientist Charles Bourland, "it just wasn't popular with the crews."

Space food has grown moister and more normal over the years, to the point where Emeril and Rachael Ray have gotten involved and Bourland (with science writer Gregory Vogt) has put out a cookbook: The Astronaut's Cookbook: Tales, Recipes and More (Springer, 2010). It is somewhat unusual for the genre, in that it includes sentences like: "The medical guy dropped to the deck and soaked up the emesis with a sponge so that it could be determined how much of the liquid Joe had actually consumed."

Below is Bourland's recipe for the astronauts' all-time favorite space food. Astronaut Story Musgrave used to request it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

 Files The-Astronaut-Cookbook NASA SHRIMP COCKTAIL

4 lb. Individually Quick Frozen large peeled and de-veined shrimp

Shrimp Boil Mixture:
1 bag dry crab boil 4 tbsp bottled lemon juice 1 tbsp dehydrated onion flakes 4 tsp Tabasco sauce 1 tbsp celery salt 1 tbsp garlic powder 1 tsp salt

1. Rinse shrimp thoroughly with water and soak for 10 minutes in 1.5% salt solution (3 tbsp of salt per gallon of water).
2. Drain the shrimp and heat 1 gal. of water.
3. Add the shrimp boil mixture to 1 gal. of water and heat to boiling.
4. Add shrimp to the boiling mixture and boil for 6-8 mins. Drain immediately and chill with ice or place in refrigerator.
5. Serve chilled.

Since dried shrimp cocktail sauce is usually not available on the retail level the best substitute is a store-bought sauce. Add some extra horseradish to give the space shrimp cocktail a real kick.

Yield: 16 servings

Note: For space, NASA freeze-dries the shrimp and adds dried cocktail sauce to the shrimp at the time of packing. In orbit, astronauts merely add chilled water to the package and dissolve the sauce by kneading the package.



    Crawfish, Shrimp and

    Or, as we always called it, just “Zatarain’s” (pronounced ZAT-uh-rans), after the most popular local brand of crab boil. It’s a packet of spices that you just throw into the water in which you boil your seafood, and makes it spicy-yummy-wonderful. Just make sure you don’t get it near your face and inhale, or you’ll be sneezing uncontrollably for several minutes!

    It’s now widely available in the United States, but not elsewhere in the world. If you live in an area where it’s not available, make your own, and have Louisiana-style boiled shrimp, crabs or crawfish anytime. Works well with any kind of shellfish (I’d love to try boiling langoustines in this elixir sometime!).

    * 4 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
    * 3 tablespoons coriander seeds
    * 2 tablespoons whole allspice
    * 2 tablespoons dill seeds
    * 1 teaspoon whole cloves
    * 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
    * 8 bay leaves
    * Salt and cayenne pepper (or liquid hot sauce) to taste

    Combine all dry ingredients thoroughly. Place in a square of muslin or cheesecloth and tie securely with string, like a large sachet d’épices. Add salt and cayenne or hot sauce to the water to taste, then bring to a boil.

    When water for seafood is boiling, add the bag and boil for several minutes, until the boiling liquid is tinted and seasoned, then add vegetables and/or shellfish and cook until done, depending on what you’re using.

  2. Umm.. “astronaut ice cream.” *without* the creamy or icy sensation of regular ice cream.

    Yeah, and why not try “astronaut beer” it’s just like regular beer but without the alcohol, bubbles or beer taste.

    I can understand why it wasn’t popular with the crews.

  3. I loved Astronaut Ice Cream when I was a kid. No trip to the museum was complete unless I got some in the gift shop.

  4. In Amsterdam you can nice “space cake” which, as I understand it, is what the Dutch astronauts used to eat before going up high. It seems to be wildly popular.

    1. In Amsterdam you can nice “space cake” which, as I understand it, is what the Dutch astronauts used to eat before going up high.

      You perhaps may be reeferring to psychonauts, not astronauts.

  5. In 2001, my employer sent me down to Johnson Space Center where I was working out of Building 17. This was the same building where they do the astronaut food testing, and they had flyers up asking for taste-testing volunteers. My biggest regret from my time down there was that I never found the time to sign up.

  6. This part caught my eye:

    Drain immediately and chill with ice or place in refrigerator.

    I remember reading that the ISS galley doesn’t have a refrigerator (or at least it didn’t used to). Does this mean that NASA Shrimp Cocktail has been retired from the menu along with the Space Shuttle?

    1. Note: For space, NASA freeze-dries the shrimp and adds dried cocktail sauce to the shrimp at the time of packing. In orbit, astronauts merely add chilled water to the package and dissolve the sauce by kneading the package.

  7. Instead of thinking “Astronaut Ice Cream,” think “tasty chalk.” I kind of like it. It’s a matter of appropriately framing your expectations.

  8. Astronaut ice cream is the bomb! We have a space museum here in my hometown that offers neapolitan as well as freeze dried ice cream sandwiches, strawberries, and hash browns, which are a bit odd but not unlike fried shoestring potatoes.

  9. It sounds like there is now a refrigerator on the ISS- this may ahve been installed as a result of the retirement of the shuttle.

    Secondly: Refrigeration seemed more un-space-friendly than boiling and draining a lot of water?

    Note that the end of the article implies that the recipe is prepared on earth, freeze dried (instead of chilled), adn then ‘cooked’ in space with the addition of water.

  10. My dad worked at Johnson Space Center from Mercury through Challenger, and he used to tell the story about one of his first encounters with vacuum sealed food. They’d just finished a big project and apparently the team he was working with was at Cape Canaveral, while he was in Clear Lake. Someone had brought donuts in to celebrate, and he was on the phone when they arrived. Of course, they promised to send him some!

    Do you know what happens to a donut under vacuum pressure?

    Well, when it got to him three days later, it was as flat as a pancake. As I understand it, he just tacked it to his wall as is, and it stayed there for years. I’ve often wondered if it’s still in a box in our attic somewhere.

    1. Yeah, I remember those! I loved ’em, and I bet if I ate one now I’d still like it. A little like a Tootsie Roll, but not quite as dense or as chewy, but close. I’m surprised they still make them, since the marketing prestige and excitement of the space program has worn off a bit.

  11. How does boiling work in the space shuttle/space station? And for that matter, how do you add anything to what’s boiling?

  12. Is it true that the recipe of margarine, Tang and instant coffee crystals on Wonder Bread is from the Space Program?

  13. Want the same effect as “astronaut ice cream”? Just eat a spoon full of coffee creamer… it tastes the same to me… same texture etc. :(

  14. I’ve long been trying to find out how to value one of my few prized possessions; an actual Apollo food packet of Salisbury steak that was gifted to me by a laid-off Grumman engineer when I was a child. (one of the team that worked on the LEM interior and who America rewarded for his contribution to the space program by pulling the plug on his career and leaving him to make a living driving around NJ selling life insurance…) It was supposedly among the food supplies that actually went to the Moon and was brought back as back-up supplies. I’ve never been able to find a place where one can check on the value of such space memorabilia or work out such details as which mission it might have been on.

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