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Nasa didn't really need to go quite so high tech
with the vittles, but the agency's mandate in the early days was never
to use something off the shelf when they could reinvent the wheel,
which is the reason why they created nitrogen-charged space pens
instead of using mechanical pencils. They figured that the way to
go with astronaut menus was to start from scratch and spend a good wad
of the taxpayers' money to re-invent shrimp cocktail for free-fall.
though the first Mercury space missions only lasted a few hours at
most, John Glenn et al had box lunches packed for them-- not because
they might get a bit peckish while sailing through the vastness of
space, but because no one even knew whether or not it was possible to
swallow in in zero gravity, so they figured it might be a good idea to
find out before they started conquering the Cosmos. Good thing
there wasn't any problem, as finding someone to administer the
Heimlich manoeuvre in low orbit might have proven a tad difficult.
The food for the Mercury missions was not what one
would call haute cuisine. The first meals were aluminium tubes
filled with apple sauce, sugar tablets, and and "food cubes" coated
with gelatine to keep crumbs from floating off and getting into the
works. Even when the menu was expanded to include freeze
dried meals the fact that they were prepared by squirting cold water
into a toothpaste tube and then sucking it out with a straw prevented
Nasa from getting more than one star from Egon Ronay.
Gemini missions saw an improvement in space food, though it requires a
generous definition of "improvement." By now food was
being packed in squeezable plastic pouches to make mixing the freeze
dried powder easier and there was hot water so the astronauts weren't
eating cold scrambled eggs, but powder is powder and there isn't much
of any way to dress up pureed shrimp cocktail sucked out of a plastic
Apollo Lunar landings saw one small step for man and one teeny step
for supper. If you examine the photo on the
left you can see
the dream and reality of dining at Café
Tranquilité. On the right of the photo you can see a steak
dinner. On the left is the same meal reduced to the freeze-dried
and compressed form that Armstrong and Aldrin enjoyed, for want of a
better word, on their historic Moon landing. If the first bite
is with the eye, then this is one meal you want to eat in the dark.
the time Skylab came along things had become a bit more civilised.
The menu had expanded to include 72 items. Of course, shrimp
cocktail was 38 of them, but this is a government programme. The
food was now heated in an oven with about the heat capacity of a '70s
college dorm model and was served in individual trays. Beverages
meanwhile came pre-packed in plastic concertina bottles that found an Earthside use as articles for feminine hygiene.
Space Food Sticks
remember these things very vividly. They were originally
developed for the American space programme as a way of providing
astronauts with a snack that wouldn't break into crumbs and that could
be stuck through a special valve in a space helmet to provide food in
case of an emergency-- assuming that one had a space helmet with a
handy special valve attached.
They weren't much to write home about in terms of taste and the
texture was that of window putty, but astronauts ate them and that was
good enough for any eleven year-old boy. I managed to get
a few boxes from the States and even showed them to my class at school
with great pride that I'd secured a true artefact of the Moon Race.
My teacher then killed two birds with one stone by using me as an
object lesson on the nefarious powers of corporate marketing and how
to humiliate a boy by making him look like a complete burke in front
of his peers.
Nice one, sir!
there was Tang. Contrary to popular belief, this powder that
turned tap water somewhat orange tasting was not developed by the
American space programme, but had been kicking around on the shelves
for some years before Nasa decided that their astronauts were enjoying
life too much and added it to their meals.
What other explanation could there be? A
flask of tea was too much trouble?
the Russians, working with more primitive resources,
dodged the whole high tech food route and opted for just having their
cosmonauts take along tinned tongue like any other camper.