Apollo to the Moon

Food in Space

A Brief History of Food in Space

Explorers and travelers throughout history have had to develop methods for preserving food and carrying enough food for their journeys. This problem was especially difficult during the time when people made long sea voyages on sailing ships. Great explorers like Columbus, Magellan and Cook carried dried foods and foods preserved in salt and brine.

More recently, refrigeration and canning have provided solutions to the problem of food preservation. However, space travel required that new methods be devised for keeping foods edible. Foods taken into space must be light-weight, compact, tasty and nutritious. They must also keep for long periods without refrigeration. A variety of menus consisting of foods similar to those displayed here provided each astronaut with 2500 or more calories per day.

Mercury Program Food

First Meal in Space

John Glenn was the first American to eat in space aboard Friendship 7 in 1962. At that time it was not known if ingestion and absorption of nutrients were possible in a state of zero gravity. Glenn's consumption of applesauce, packed in a tube, and xylose sugar tablets with water, demonstrated that people could eat, swallow, and digest food in a weightless environment.

Mercury space food of the early 1960s was based on Army survival rations, and consisted of pureed food packed into aluminum tubes and sucked through a straw. While Glenn and the other Mercury astronauts experienced no problems in chewing, drinking, swallowing, or digesting, the food was not considered very delicious.

John Glenn
John Glenn, the first American to eat in space, eating applesauce during the Friendship 7 flight in 1962.
Mercury Space Food Beef and Vegetables Tube

Beef and Vegetables

This spacefood package containing pureed beef and vegetables was issued to John Glenn for consumption during his Friendship 7 flight in February 1962. Spacefood for the Mercury missions was placed in tube form to enable the astronauts to squeeze it directly into their mouths.

Gemini Program Food

In the weightless environment of space, astronauts exerted less energy in conducting their work than if they were on Earth. Gemini astronauts were allotted 2500 calories a day during space missions, less than their normal intake of 3000 calories. The food, which had 99 percent of the moisture removed to reduce weight, had an average content of 17 percent protein, 32 percent fat, and 51 percent carbohydrates.

First Freeze-Dried Space Food

Dehydrated, freeze-dried, and bite-sized foods, coated with gelatin or oil to prevent crumbling, were introduced during Project Gemini. On-board hydrogen-oxygen fuel cells provided a source of water that could be used to moisten dehydrated or freeze-dried foods.

Typical Gemini Meal Item
A typical Gemini meal item. This item was taken aboard but not eaten.

Freeze-dried foods are prepared by quick-freezing cooked items, which are then placed in a vacuum chamber where they are heated to remove all water. Natural oils, however, are retained. The items are then vacuum-packed in a four-ply laminated container with a water valve at one end. Foods preserved in this manner can be kept at room temperature for long periods of time. Gemini and Apollo food was prepared and packaged by Whirlpool Corporation in conjunction with the U.S. Army Laboratory in Natick, Massachusetts and NASA.

The first time solid food was eaten in space was on Gemini 3. Astronaut John Young carried two meal packages to sample on his 5-hour mission. While in orbit, Young surprised fellow astronaut Virgil Grissom when he presented him with a corned beef sandwich on rye, which had been purchased at a delicatessen in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Grissom did not finish the sandwich, however, because it was producing crumbs.

Preparing a Meal

A freeze-dried meal would be rehydrated using a water gun to inject cold water into the package. After cutting the package open with scissors, the meal was then ready to eat.

Typical Gemini Meal
Typical Gemini Meal
This meal includes a beef sandwich, strawberry cereal cubes, peaches, and beef and gravy. Astronauts used a water gun to reconstitute the food and scissors to open the package.
Gemini Meal Preparation
Gemini Meal Preparation
Food packages of beef and gravy fully reconstituted and ready to eat. The water gun is used to reconstitute dehydrated food and the scissors are used to open the packages to eat.

Apollo Program Food

More Sophisticated Space Food

Apollo Water Gun

Hot Water Gun
On Apollo, rations were increased to 2800 calories per day. A more sophisticated water system provided both hot and cold water for the preparation of food. Gemini spacecraft provided only cold water, so all re-hydrated foods on those missions were eaten cold.

Apollo Food Restraint Pouch

Food Restraint Pouch
This pouch was used as a restraint for the food during the course of rehydration and eating. It was equipped with small velcro tabs that enabled the food to be fastened to the spacecraft to prevent it from floating away.

Apollo Space Food Turkey and Gravy

Thermo-stablized Turkey and Gravy
On Christmas Eve, 1968, during the Apollo 8 mission, the astronauts opened their meal packages to discover thermo-stabilized turkey with gravy and cranberry sauce that they could eat with a spoon. This meal did not have to be re-hydrated.

Apollo 11 Spoon

Eating with a Spoon
This small spoon was used by Command Module Pilot Michael Collins for eating during the Apollo 11 mission. It is constructed of stainless steel, and was part of his Personal Preference Kit.

Apollo Space Food One Man Meal

Prepared Meals
Each astronaut meal was individually wrapped in foil and color-coded. This blue-patched package contains the third-day dinner for Apollo 11 Astronaut Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr.

Apollo 11 Contingency Feeding System

Contingency Feeding System
If the Apollo spacecraft cabin should become depressurized, the astronauts would have to live in their spacesuits and would not be able to eat solid foods. This Contingency Feeding System, carried on Apollo 11, would have allowed an astronaut to eat liquid foods through a small port in their helmet.

Apollo Drinking Device

In-suit Drinking Device
Beginning with Apollo 13, a canteen was added to the astronaut spacesuits that would allow the crew members to drink while they worked on the moon. The Apollo 15 astronauts carried apricot food bars for a snack during increasingly long work periods on the lunar surface.

Freeze-Dried Space Food

Most food for the Apollo missions was preserved through a process known as freeze-drying. Prior to packaging, a food was quick-frozen and then placed into a vacuum chamber. The vacuum removed all moisture from the foods. They were then packaged while still in the vacuum chamber. Freeze-drying provides foods that will keep their nutrition and taste qualities almost indefinitely. They are extremely light and compact and require no refrigeration.

Some of these Apollo foods—the cereal and brownie cubes, for example—may be eaten without preparation. The others must have hot or cold water added through the nozzle at the end of the package. Unlike the Gemini program water guns that only injected cold water for rehydrating foods, the Apollo program had water guns that injected either hot or cold water. After rehydration, the food was squeezed into the astronaut's mouth through the flat tube stored in the package. After the food has been eaten, a small tablet was inserted into the package to kill bacterial growth.

Skylab Program Food

Refrigerated Foods

The next major advancement in the quality and variety of space food occurred in 1973 during the Skylab Program. Skylab was a space mission after Apollo, in which the third stage of a Saturn V rocket was converted into a space station. The space station had a full galley in which the astronauts could cook and eat meals of their own choosing.

Skylab relied on solar cells for power, instead of water-producing fuel cells. Dehydrated foods were limited in order to conserve the water supply. Skylab was equipped with a refrigerator so that frozen foods could be carried. This included what became the astronauts favorite dish—ice cream.

Eating aboard Skylab
The Skylab mission (after Apollo) space station had a full galley in which the astronauts could cook and eat meals of their own choosing.
Skylab Space Food Turkey and Gravy
Skylab, the next mission after Apollo, had new ways of storing food. Instead of being rehydrated, food items packaged in pop-top aluminum cans or plastic pouches were heated in these containers before consumption.

Apollo-Soyuz Program Food

The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) gave American astronauts their first taste of Soviet space food. During the joint American-Soviet mission in 1975, the astronauts dined on Russian specialties such as caviar and borscht in tubes.

Apollo-Soyuz Space Food Jellied Beef Tongue
Apollo-Soyuz Space Food Jellied Beef Tongue

Apollo-Soyuz Space Food Riga Bread
Apollo-Soyuz Space Food Riga Bread
Apollo-Soyuz Toasting in Space

American astronauts Thomas P. Stafford, ASTP crew commander, and Donald "Deke" Slayton visit the Soviet Soyuz spacecraft after the two nations' vehicles join in a historic rendezvous. In a symbol of comaraderie with their Soviet crewmates, they hold tubes of borscht (beet soup) over which vodka labels have been pasted.