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.
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.