It’s 98 degrees and 74% humidity outside. Beads of sweat start gathering above your brow. In seconds, those beads balloon and begin a hurried descent to your neck, then your back, until finally you’re soaked. You’re a man-made wonder; a moving, breathing, t-shirt-wearing Niagara Falls. As anyone who has ever braved the hot asphalt to chase down the siren song of an ice cream truck knows, the best cure for a sweltering summer day is ice cream. It’s fortunate then, that the summer heat cannot be felt within the confines of a spacecraft—the International Space Station is always a comfortable 72 degrees. Three hundred and fifty-four kilometers (220 miles) above Earth, ice cream is hard to come by. The gift-shop staple, “Astronaut Ice Cream,” was the first type of ice cream to make it into space during the Apollo 7 mission in 1968, and it was the only time it was “served” in space. Astronauts Walter M. Schirra, Donn F. Eisele, and R. Walter Cunningham were treated to pouches of Neapolitan on their 11-day mission. Unlike on Earth, the freeze-dried dessert never really took off in space. It was far too crumbly to be practical in a weightless environment, and the astronauts never became enamored with the taste. In 2006, however, the real stuff made its way into orbit. Space Shuttle Atlantis flew a freezer, known as GLACIER, to the International Space Station (ISS). The freezer was meant to store research samples that would eventually be returned to Earth, but why send it up empty? NASA took the opportunity to fill the freezer with ice cream cups from Blue Bell—vanilla with swirls of chocolate sauce. The last time ice cream was enjoyed in zero-g was in 2012. Once again, ISS crew members were treated to Blue Bell ice cream. The tantalizing frozen treat made the trip aboard the SpaceX Dragon resupply capsule.
While the Museum doesn’t have any rocky road in its collection, it does have an impressive spread of other space foods. While you explore what astronauts eat, make sure to treat yourself to a scoop of the regular stuff back here on Earth. It is National Ice Cream Day after all. Whether you like it sandwiched between cookies, split between bananas, or precariously perched atop a cone, enjoy this summer salvation in honor of the current ISS crew who cannot.