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Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Food in space: From ISRO’s Gaganyaan mission to NASA, what astronauts eat

The Defence Food Research Laboratory, a Mysuru-based lab under DRDO, has prepared the packaged food items for the Gaganyaan mission. Here's how astronauts eat in space, how space food is prepared and more.

By: Tech Desk | New Delhi | January 9, 2020 6:21:34 pm
space food, gaganyaan, gaganyaan astronaut food, isro space food, isro astronaut food, nasa, nasa food for astronaut, russian cosmonaut space food Gaganyaan astronauts will have Indian food in space. (Image: ANI)

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) announced its plan to send astronauts to space by December 2021, under its ‘Gaganyaan’ mission. The Indian astronauts are expected to spend at least seven days into space, but what will they eat? Apparently they will not miss Indian food as a menu of about 30 dishes, including idli sambar, upma, veg rolls, egg rolls, moong dal halwa and vegetable pulav, as per the news agency ANI.

The Defence Food Research Laboratory, a Mysuru-based lab under the Defence Research and Development Organisation, has prepared the packaged food items for the Gaganyaan mission. As per the news agency, astronauts will also be provided with food heaters.

2020 will be the year of Chandrayaan-3 and Gaganyaan: Everything to know

As per the report, the Defence Food Research Laboratory has also prepared special containers to drink liquids like water and juices in space where there is no gravity. The astronauts will also be provided with cutlery and waste disposal pack on their mission.

“Apart from the food, we are also tasked with providing food-warmer technology, stainless steel cutlery and a waste disposal pack,” Defence Food Research Laboratory director Anil Semwal told Times of India.

Eating food in space

During NASA’s first human spaceflight program Mercury, astronauts find eating in space fairly easy but the menu was limited. It consisted of bite-sized cubes, freeze-dried powders, and thick liquids stuffed in aluminium tubes. The food was unappetizing, freeze-dried foods were hard to rehydrate and crumbs had to be prevented from fouling instruments. However, the food started to improve on the following missions starting from the Gemini missions.

According to NASA, the Bite-sized cubes were coated with gelatin to reduce crumbling, and the freeze-dried foods were encased in a special plastic container to make reconstituting easier. With improved packaging came improved food quality and menus. Gemini astronauts had such food choices as shrimp cocktail, chicken and vegetables, butterscotch pudding, and apple sauce, and were able to select meal combinations themselves.

Food for NASA astronauts, Russian cosmonauts

Currently, NASA astronauts, as well as the Russian cosmonauts, have real food that is dehydrated and packed in specially designed plastic bags for weightless conditions. The astronauts or cosmonauts just need to add hot or cold water and give it a good shake to prepare it– more or less instant cup noodles. Astronauts eat three meals a day– breakfast, lunch and dinner. Nutritionists ensure the food astronauts eat provides them with a balanced supply of vitamins and minerals whereas the calorie requirements differ for each person.

space food, gaganyaan, gaganyaan astronaut food, isro space food, isro astronaut food, nasa, nasa food for astronaut, russian cosmonaut space food Eating food in Space. (Image: NASA)

“An astronaut can choose from many types of foods such as fruits, nuts, peanut butter, chicken, beef, seafood, candy, brownies, etc. Available drinks include coffee, tea, orange juice, fruit punches and lemonade,” NASA said.

For the NASA astronauts, the standard Shuttle menu repeats after seven days. It supplies each crew member with three balanced meals, plus snacks. Each astronaut’s food is stored aboard the Shuttle and is identified by a coloured dot affixed to each package.

The food items of NASA astronauts include dehydrated beverages, fresh foods with a two-day shelf life, irradiated meat, items with intermediate moisture that won’t go bad as quickly as fresh foods, items like nuts or cookies, rehydratable food that can be reconstituted with water, and thermostabilized items that can be prepared with heat to kill off possible spoiling agents.

space food, gaganyaan, gaganyaan astronaut food, isro space food, isro astronaut food, nasa, nasa food for astronaut, russian cosmonaut space food Different types of food for astronauts in space. (Image: NASA)

How NASA prepares the space food

The astronaut food is evaluated around eight to nine months prior to flight. The astronauts are given the opportunity to sample a variety of foods and beverages available for flight. A pack of information is given to each astronaut to use in planning their personal preference menus, which includes a standard menu, training menu, past flight menus the astronaut has chosen, and the baseline shuttle food and beverage list.

AS per information provided by NASA, the food is selected approximately five months before flight and analyzed for nutritional content by the Shuttle Dietitian. Recommendations are made to correct any nutrient deficiencies based on the Recommended Dietary Allowances, after which the menus are finalized and provided to the Flight Equipment Processing Contractor (FEPC) in Houston three months before launch. The FEPC processes, packages, and stows the food in the Shuttle lockers before being transferred to KSC.

space food, gaganyaan, gaganyaan astronaut food, isro space food, isro astronaut food, nasa, nasa food for astronaut, russian cosmonaut space food The food for astronauts is evaluated for nutritional value. (Image: NASA)

Apart from the selected menu, a supplementary food supply that provides approximately 2100 Kilocalories per person for two extra days is stowed aboard the Shuttle for each flight.

India’s manned space mission: Gaganyaan

India plans to send three people to space as part of Mission Gaganyaan, which is scheduled to take off before 2022. Last week, ISRO chief K Sivan said that four astronauts have been identified for training that will begin in the third week of January in Russia.

ISRO’s manned space mission is significant because, at the moment, only three countries — Russia, US, and China — have launched a manned space flight. If India manages to achieve this feat, it will the country the fourth nation to have accomplished a manned space flight.

The project was first announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his 2018 Independence Day speech. The spacecraft is likely to consist of an Orbital Module which will have a service and a crew module. The mission is estimated to cost around Rs 10,000 crore.

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