The story of space food

The story of space food

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The first person to eat in space was Yuri Gagarin, in 1961. He ate a meal of beef and liver paste, squeezed into his mouth from an aluminium tube. And then chocolate sauce for dessert. 

If we’re honest, it doesn’t sound like the best meal ever eaten. But food has posed a problem for astronauts since the dawn of travel beyond our planet – because eating in space isn’t quite like eating on Earth. 

And when the space tourism industry takes off, that problem is going to scale. 

It started with liquid-ish foods and bite-sized cubes

In the early 1960s, Gagarin’s tubes of nutrition were accompanied by small cubes of foods that were dehydrated and compressed on Earth, and then rehydrated by saliva in the mouths of astronauts (yum). 

In the mid-60s, we’d seen some advancements in space food. A wider variety of food could be preserved through freeze-drying – it was cooked, frozen, and then vacuum packed to remove water. Freeze-dried food retains its flavour, and can be rehydrated with an injection of water through the packaging. 

Hot water and wetpacks made space food better

By the time the Apollo astronauts landed on the moon, NASA had figured out how to provide hot water to astronauts in space, and that made the rehydration process much easier. Astronauts on the Apollo mission were able to use utensils in space for the first time – so they didn’t have to squeeze food into their mouths from a tube. And they also had access to wetpacks thermostabilised food pouches made from plastic or foil, which could keep food moist so it didn’t have to be rehydrated. 

On that mission, the crew ate cornflakes, beef sandwiches, bacon squares, and chocolate pudding – and fruitcake on December 24th, 1968.

A dining table, please? 

NASA’s 1973 Skylab mission gave astronauts something new: a dining table. They were able to sit down and eat, and they enjoyed onboard refrigeration that allowed them to travel with 72 different menu items. They also had trays that could heat food up – making the whole dining experience quite a bit more Earth-like. 

In the 1980s, that homely food trend continued – and space shuttle astronauts were able to design their own weekly menus from a selection of 74 foods and 20 drinks. Food preparation was facilitated by an oven (!) and a water dispenser, and one menu was created by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse. 

What (and how) do astronauts eat in space today? 

The short answer is: loads of things. Astronauts can choose from cereals, eggs, bacon and rehydrated fruits for breakfast. They can drink coffee and tea. They might eat sandwiches and wraps or rehydrated soups for lunch; and dinners include a wide-variety of pre-prepared, reheatable and dehydratable dishes. 

Astronauts today also get to enjoy regular snacks – like nuts, cookies, granola bars, and more. 

The future of the space food industry

The space food manufacturing industry has, for the most part, been an in-house endeavour by space agencies. But as space tourism becomes a reality just over the horizon, the industry might look very different in the future. 

We’ll see an increased demand for space food, and for suppliers that can handle the demands of manufacturing and distributing food products for space use. In particular, there will be a growth in the need for innovative processing and packaging technologies that can enable space food production at scale – so private companies will invest in R&D to enable mass production of food items that offer strong nutritional value, excellent taste, and a wide variety of products to suit the tastes of commercial space travellers. 

According to a report by Reliable Business Insights, the space food market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 6% until 2028. And to tap into this emerging market, F&B companies will need to collaborate closely with space agencies to gain insider knowledge into the demands of cuisine in the stars. 

The takeaway? Start networking now to position your F&B effectively in the market outside of Earth’s atmosphere. 

Want to know more about food in space and technology in general? You may not know this about us, but we're the same organisers bringing you LEAP, the world's most-attended tech event, from 10-13 February 2025 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Check out LEAP here for more opportunities to learn about tech.

Mark your calendars for our next newsletter on 14 June 2024. Is there anything specific you'd like to see covered? We'd love to hear from you! Click here to share your suggestions.

Until next week,

Aravind Kanniah,
Exhibition Director

Join us at InFlavour 2024 to grow your network, expand your knowledge, and build your business. We can’t wait to see you there.

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