Astronaut Food Is Light Years Beyond Tang And Freeze-Dried Ice Cream

When it comes down to it, we humans have two major concerns when venturing away from home for an extended period of time: what we’ll eat, and where we will sleep. Depending on the mode of travel, you might take some snacks along, or else rely on restaurants and/or the pantry of your possible hosts. Until the day we can reliably grow many types of food in space, or that Milliways, that five-star eatery at the end of the universe is operational, astronauts and other space-bound travelers will have to bring most of their food with them.

Cubes and Tubes

Space food has its roots in military rations, which in the United States were devised during the Revolutionary War. Both the variety and delivery methods of food have changed significantly since the beginning of the space program. While the menu may have at first been limited to tubes of nutrient-rich goo, bite-sized cubes and freeze-dried powdered beverages, the fare is more far-out these days. Astronauts on the ISS even enjoy tortillas, fresh fruits, and vegetables thanks to resupply missions, though they have to eat some of these types of foods quickly.

The average astronaut has also changed quite a bit, too. At first, they were all young and super-fit ex-military men, but nowadays they are more likely to be middle-aged science-y types and women. All three of these groups have different nutritional needs when faced with the rigors of living and working in space.

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Freeze Drying Astronaut Ice Cream

In our younger and more vulnerable years nothing was greater than visiting a museum, going to the gift shop, and badgering our parents to buy a pack of astronaut ice cream. Freeze dried ice cream leaves a taste of nostalgic chalky sweetness in our mouths, so we’re very excited to see that [Ben Krasnow] is now making his own astronaut ice cream.

The basic principle of freeze drying is simple. All you have to do is reduce the pressure and temperature of the food below the triple point of water and pump the sublimated water vapor out. For [Ben], this meant he needed to cool his Neapolitan Klondike bar to -30° C in a bath of chilled ethanol and pump out the air with a vacuum pump.

Interestingly, [Ben] found it necessary to heat his ice cream while under vacuum to extract more water vapor. This makes sense; at the pressures he was dealing with, [Ben] would never come across water in a liquid state. The entire process took about 18 hours. [Ben] admits this may have been a little longer than necessary, but it’s a small price to pay for reliving childhood memories.