John Glenn was the first American to eat in space. Aboard Friendship 7 in 1962, he squeezed applesauce and puréed beef with vegetables from metal tubes down a straw and into his mouth through a port in his helmet.
The world was captivated. This strange method of consumption was so intriguing that, while tubed, puréed food was quickly abandoned, it continues to be what most people think astronauts eat.
Today, space food has come a long way. It’s no longer about astronauts simply meeting a calorie requirement while on short trips to the moon; it’s about them living semi-comfortably in space over months. Below, an overview of what’s changed since the 1960s — and what’s happening next.
Yes, tubed food was a hit with America at large. But not so much with the people who actually had to eat it. By the Gemini and Apollo missions of the mid-1960s, dehydrated, freeze-dried and bite-sized foods were the trend, to cut down on equipment-damaging floating crumbs while providing a more human experience of eating.
“Space food became a kind of modernist symbol of the times to come,” says TED Senior Fellow Angelo Vermeulen, who recently led a four-month NASA study simulating cooking and eating on Mars. “It’s this idea of, ‘We’re going to change the future technologically.’ It became a strong symbol of the belief in progress in the ’50s and ’60s.”
ASTRONAUT ICE CREAM MADE A SINGLE FLIGHT INTO SPACE.
Many foods of this era were created with the help of the same people who made washers and dryers. Whirlpool Corporation debuted its Space Kitchen at a convention in 1961; with a refrigerator, freezer, water system and disposal units, all packed into a 10 x 7.5-foot cylinder, it was designed to take care of all the food and beverages needs for a 14-day mission. Between 1957 and 1973, Whirlpool completed 300 space-related kitchen contracts, and employed 60 people to design, develop and package food for space.