Posts Tagged ‘Gemini Program’

Astronaut Chow: Space Food over the Years

February 22, 2012

The first manned missions to outer space by both the United States and former USSR in 1961 were short trips that last no longer than two hours.  However, the former USSR went on to complete a few missions that lasted more than 24 hours before the US completed its first 24-hour space flight in 1963.  The increasing durations of the space flights by both the American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts make one thing very clear: at some point, the crew must eat.

Russian Borscht soup in a tube, consumed by cosmonauts in space | Astronaut Chow: Space Food over the Years

Russian Borscht soup in a tube. Courtesy: Aliazimi

The first food delivery systems were, of all things, tubes.  They had the look and feel of a tube of toothpaste, but what came out of these tubes was anything but minty.  The former USSR’s Yuri Gagarin, who in 1961 became both the first human to travel into space and the first to orbit the earth, dined on three 160 g toothpaste-type tubes: two servings of puréed meat and one chocolate sauce.  The combined crew of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (1975) ate tubes of borscht and caviar, along with canned beef tongue and packaged Riga bread.

Space Food during Projects Mercury and Gemini | Astronaut Chow: Space Food over the Years

Top: Project Mercury – Food cubes and tubes. Bottom: Project Gemini – Cubes and “rehydrater”.

While NASA effectively borrowed the food tube idea from the Russians, they also experimented with their own delivery system: bite-sized cubes with gelatin coatings to prevent crumbs.  During Project Mercury (1959-63) and Project Gemini (1965-66), foods were dehydrated before missions and rehydrated once in space, allowing the menu to expand over time to include the astronauts’ preferences.  Items such as shrimp cocktail, chicken and vegetables, toast squares, butterscotch pudding, and apple juice were available on the menu.  Even though rehydration methods improved during the Apollo program (1961-75), food presentation and presentation were still the same as during the previous space programs.

Skylab 2 astronauts eat space food in wardroom of Skylab trainer | Astronaut Chow: Space Food over the Years

Left to right, Scientist-Astronaut Joseph P. Kerwin, science pilot; Astronaut Paul J. Weitz, pilot; and Astronaut Charles Conrad Jr., commander

By the time the United States’ space station, Skylab, was operational in the mid 1970s, astronauts indulged in “normal” meals.  The astronauts would literally come to the table during mealtimes.  A dining room table and chairs, fastened to the floor and fitted with foot and thigh restraints, allowed for a more normal eating experience.  The trays used could warm the food, and had magnets to hold eating utensils and scissors to open food containers.  Unfortunately, a new problem came to light.  The astronauts trained on the ground with the very food they brought with them to Skylab, so they fully expected the food to taste the same.  However, they soon realized that the microgravity environment dulled their senses of taste and smell due to a head congestion from weightlessness.

Food trays from the space station, Skylab, and the Space Shuttle | Astronaut Chow: Space Food over the Years

Food trays from (top to bottom) Skylab and Space Shuttle.

The food tray developed for Skylab was apparently well-designed and deemed sufficient for the Space Shuttle program (1981-2011).  As you can see, the food trays between both space programs differ in design slightly, but the functionality, as well as mobility, of both trays allowed astronauts to take their food with them wherever they worked.

In 2009, the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern” gave viewers a rare glimpse into the development of space food technology.  Andrew Zimmern, along with astronauts Michael Foreman, Leland Melvin, Michael Massimino, and Garrett Riesman, were presented with a number of food items that were flown on Space Shuttle missions and are currently available on the International Space Station.  They rated each food item and gave their thoughts and opinions of each item to the food scientists.  Andrew noted right away that a fruit punch drink was much sweeter than he anticipated, and other foods were very flavorful or spicy.  As previously discussed, past astronauts complained of dulled senses of taste and smell due to the microgravity environment.  Food scientists countered this phenomenon by preparing foods with extra flavor.

Here is a YouTube video from the Travel Channel where Andrew Zimmern samples space food:

The culmination of years of work by NASA’s food scientists can be seen below.

Bags of International Space Station food and utensils on a tray | Astronaut Chow: Space Food over the Years

Bags of International Space Station food and utensils on a tray. Courtesy: NASA

Assorted bags of snack food and dehydrated food, as served on the ISS | Astronaut Chow: Space Food over the Years

Assorted bags of snack food and dehydrated food, as served on the ISS. Courtesy: NASA

What does the future hold for space food?  Apparently, we do not have to wait long for an answer to that question.  According to Mashable:

“[NASA] is looking for applicants to eat astronaut food for four months during a simulated trip to the Red Planet. Participants will try instant foods, and ones with shelf-stable ingredients, and scientists will record their reactions. The goal of the experiment is to discover what foods people like to consume consistently.”

If you want to shape the future of space food, NASA is giving you a chance to do so.

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Francis Unson

NASA’s Manned Missions: Past and Present

May 24, 2011

Since 1959, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has successfully launched over 100 manned flights into space.  The most successful space programs have been the following:

Project Mercury (1959-1963) – The first US-crewed program started in 1959, successfully completing six crewed missions.  Watch the first part of NASA’s documentary on Project Mercury below, as well as part two and part three.

Project Gemini (1963-1966) – NASA used this program to practice space rendezvous and EVAs, completing a run of ten crewed missions.  Part one of NASA’s documentary on Project Gemini (Gemini IV), below, along with part two and part three.

Apollo Program (1961-1975) – Even though there were a total of eleven crewed missions, Apollo 11 featured Man’s very first lunar landing.  Watch part one of NASA’s documentary, Apollo 11: For All Mankind, below, as well as part two, part three, and part four.

Skylab (1973-1974) – The first American space station featured three crewed missions, which took place in 1973 and 1974.  NASA’s documentary is in two parts: part one is below.

Apollo-Soyuz (1975) – A joint program with the Soviet Union, only one crewed mission took place, but it was historic, nonetheless.  Here are parts one (below), two, and three of NASA’s documentary.

Space Shuttle Program | Space Transportation System (STS) (1981-2011) – The longest running program has gone through 133 crewed missions and was the first to make use of reusable spacecrafts.  Watch parts one (below), two, and three of NASA’s documentary covering STS-1, Space Shuttle Columbia’s and, indeed, the entire Space Shuttle program’s, maiden flight.

Shuttle-Mir Program (1994-1998) – The result of a Russian partnership, this program completed eleven crewed missions.

International Space Station (ISS) (1998-present) – This is an ongoing collaboration with Russia, Canada, ESA, and JAXA along with co-operators, ASI and AEB.  27 expeditions have maintained a human presence in outer space since 1998, and 34 Space Shuttle missions played a critical role in the construction and delivery of supplies to the ISS.  The video below highlights STS-88, the first Space Shuttle mission to the ISS.

There have been many successes with NASA’s space programs.  Since 1959, there have only been three failures which resulted in the death of the crew, such as Apollo 1 in 1967, STS-51-L (the Challenger disaster) in 1986, and STS-107 (the Columbia disaster) in 2003.  Nonetheless, the purpose of the “Review of United States Human Space Flight Plans” is to examine ongoing and planned National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) development activities, as well as potential alternatives, and present options for advancing a safe, innovative, affordable, and sustainable human space flight program in the years following Space Shuttle retirement.  I hope that, within the next few years, we continue to make many historic advances in our ongoing mission to uncover the secrets of outer space with today’s budding scientist and engineers in tomorrow’s fleet of spacecrafts.

With the retirement of NASA's Space Shuttle program in 2011, let's look back at NASA's past human spaceflight programs; at first, in a Space Race with the former U.S.S.R. and, later on, in cooperation with them and other space agencies from the international community.

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Joie Montoya