Apollo 11 People / Intrigue

Cooking for

The amazing story of food scientist Rita Rapp:
What and how to actually eat in space

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During NASA’s Apollo program in the 1960s, astronauts were venturing farther than ever before

Traveling as far as the Moon meant spending five to twelve days in space, under extremely tough physical and mental conditions

For astronauts to perform at their best, it was crucial they had a balanced diet and, when possible, enjoyed eating their meals

Before Apollo, space food was often pureed and packed in tubes, cubed, or dehydrated

Rita Rapp and her team transformed astronaut meals by developing new recipes and improving packaging

As a NASA physiologist, Rapp worked closely with individual astronauts, creating recipes that appealed to their specific preferences

While making sure the menu optimized their nutrients and calorie intake and included a few treats

When Charles Duke requested grits, Rapp worked hard to perfect them

“It took her two or three iterations,” said Duke. “By the time we got ready to fly, they were pretty good, so I ate all mine!”

Although a foil pouch doesn’t look much like a delicious plate of food, Rapp surprised the Apollo 8 astronauts with roast turkey and gravy to eat on Christmas Eve 1968

After this, Rapp developed a special spoon bowl so astronauts’ experience of eating in microgravity was more reminiscent of eating on Earth

From her early food explorations until her final years, Rapp was a loved and respected member of the NASA team

Her special home-baked sugar cookies even became a currency for astronauts on the Skylab space station

Born in Ohio in 1928, Rapp was one of the first women to study medicine at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine

A plaque in her honor now hangs at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas