May the fork be with you! It’s Star Wars Day, which makes it the perfect day to celebrate what we love most: food – but in space!
Sure, we’re still light years away from drinking blue bantha milk, a staple in Luke Skywalker’s daily breakfast and a Star Wars culinary icon. But we have come a long way in space food technology. Gone are the days of squeezing puréed food from containers resembling toothpaste tubes into your mouth. And those famous freeze-dried Neapolitan ice cream slabs sold in science museums with pictures of astronauts printed on the packaging? Turns out astronauts never actually ate them in space!
For decades, the space race had been dominated by the United States and the Soviet Union, but the thawing and eventual end of the Cold War brought about greater international spaceflight cooperation. The implications of this? Astronauts of a variety of nationalities are being propelled into space, and accompanying them are some of their national delicacies.
Now, let’s have a look at what people are eating and drinking 400km above the surface of the earth. Just imagine the following dishes freeze-dried and vacuum packaged, ready to be rehydrated by hungry astronauts!
When the first Korean astronaut Yi Soyeon went into space, she brought with her some specially modified kimchi that South Korean government research institutes had spent millions of dollars and several years developing.
The difficulty of the task laid in the fact that kimchi is full of bacteria which, while good for your health on Earth, may mutate due to cosmic rays or react in otherwise volatile ways in space. In the end, researchers found a way to eradicate the bacteria through radiation, while maintaining that distinctive kimchi taste we love.
freshly brewed coffee
Can you imagine going months without some fresh coffee to fuel your day? This was one of the many small daily pleasures that astronauts lacked on the International Space Station. For years, they had to make do with rehydrating instant coffee inside a plastic pouch. Enter Italy, home of the espresso, to the rescue. The Italian Space Agency partnered with Lavazza and Argotec to create a coffee machine that can fully function and brew authentic Italian coffee in low gravity conditions. They called this the ISSpresso (clearly they share our love of puns!). Accompanying the ISSpresso were zero gravity coffee cups, specially designed to harness the lack of gravity to enable astronauts to drink from a cup.
Even better – the machine is multipurpose, allowing astronauts to brew tea and make hot chocolate as well.
That’s right – those cheap two-minute noodles that powered you through periods of waiting for payday has been adapted for space.
Nissin Food, the company that actually invented instant noodles, went on to top that achievement by creating ‘Space Ram’ in 2005 so that Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi could bring a little taste of home with him into space. The noodles we know and love went through several modifications in order to make them edible in zero gravity. Since boiling water is not used in space, Nissin designed Space Ram so that it can be cooked with water heated to 70℃ instead. To accommodate this change, the noodles are smaller and shaped into balls, maintaining this shape after being re-heated. Meanwhile, the broth is made thick enough to prevent it from dispersing due to the lack of gravity.
sweet rice dumplings
In 2003, China’s first manned flight, Shenzhou V, had only 20 to 30 types of food on its menu. Meanwhile, Shenzhou X launched 10 years later and carried with it more than 80 different kinds of dishes.
Bean paste rice dumplings were on the menu enjoyed by Shenzhou X’s astronauts. The trip had overlapped with celebrations for Dragon Boat Festival, which has sweet rice dumplings as its culinary icon. This stemmed from the story behind the festival (which, in fact, is quite unrelated to dragons): an exiled poet Qu Yuan committed suicide by drowning himself and, unable to save him, locals threw sweet rice dumplings into the river so that fish wouldn’t nibble on his remains.
In 2010, chef Angelo Sosa won a challenge that asked the contestants of American cooking show ‘Top Chef’ to create a dish for astronauts in space. NASA then went on to modify his winning short ribs recipe in order to make it suitable for space conditions. Described as “ginger-lacquered short ribs with pea purée, pickled mushrooms and horseradish crème fraiche”, Sosa’s recipe is full of strong flavours to accommodate for the lessened sense of taste experienced by many astronauts in microgravity.
The relationship between borscht, a classic beet soup popular in Russia, and spaceflight go way, way back – to before the first human even made it into space. The flight that sent the first humanoid dummy into space broadcasted a pre-recorded tape of a voice reciting a borscht recipe as one of its communications test. The success of this mission in proving that conditions on the spacecraft were suitable for humans gave the Soviets the confidence to launch the world’s first manned space flight.
Borscht has since travelled to space in a variety of forms. It was originally served puréed in tubes, but is now freeze-dried and packaged in rehydratable pouches.
Borscht in a tube, however, remain in production as a souvenir sold in vending machines at an exhibition centre in Moscow.
Jing Haipei, a Chinese astronaut, was one of the lucky few to have celebrated his birthday in space, and his crew treated him to canned cheesecakes the size of his palms. We’re guessing there were no birthday candles though…
bonus: dehydrated milk
Forget blue milk – even fresh milk isn’t consumed in space. Instead, they drink dehydrated milk, which doesn’t need to be refrigerated.
Order freshly cooked versions of all these space dishes on foodora.