Posted on 03 Apr 2015 19:45
There are a number of space food products available for consumers to buy. Many products that became available during the height of the space race, such as Pillsbury's Space Food Sticks, which enjoyed a brief resurgence in the early 2000's, are no longer available. One type of space food is: Freeze-dried ice cream. Or is it space food?
Many customers rave over freeze-dried ice cream, such as this Astronaut Neapolitan Ice Cream. It's a delicious treat, they say.
What most people who buy these types of product are not aware of, however, is that they are nostalgia products and most of them have very little to nothing to do with what astronauts eat in space today. Most of the early innovations in space food were not very successful, and many improvements have been made, at least in terms of practicality in a gravity-free environment.
Astronauts Don't Eat Freeze Dried Ice Cream…Anymore
The curious thing about this love of astronaut freeze dried ice cream is that the astronauts hated the original freeze dried ice creams that were brought into space. While they initially tasted like ice cream, they became gooey and unpleasant in the mouth. The other thing consumers don't know is that while you can purchase astronaut freeze dried ice cream from NASA and Kennedy Space Center museums and visitor shops, it is never taken into space anymore. It is too brittle and crumbly. The ice cream breaks apart and ends up floating all over the cabin, endangering sensitive equipment. Regular ice cream is sometimes flown into space though, in small amounts stored in medical freezers.
However, the first time that freeze dried ice cream was taken to space was on the Apollo 7 mission in 1968. It was also the last time. Even though the astronauts didn't like it and it posed a danger to the equipment, clever marketers managed to get the regular public to buy the stuff like…well, ice cream, in gift shops, science centers, and now online. Freeze dried ice cream has the taste of ice cream, but that is all. And, some even disagree on the taste.
How Is Freeze Dried Ice Cream Made?
Dried ice cream is a strange thing to consider. Is it really "dry?" Yes, since the frozen water crystals inside the ice cream have been vaporized and then pumped out. To do this, ice cream is put into a vacuum chamber and a partial vacuum is formed by pumping out part of the air. Then the temperature is increased inside the chamber so that the water in the ice cream vaporizes. The water vapor is then trapped by a freezing coil. After all the water has been removed form the ice cream, it becomes a dry, crumbly brick.
What Do Reviewers Say About Astronaut Freeze Dried Ice Cream?
Almost 60% of customers, at the time of this writing, give the Astronaut Neapolitan Ice Cream at Amazon 5-stars. They call it a delicious, smooth, creamy treat. Perhaps there have been some improvement in freeze-dried ice cream technology, because the astronauts did not consider it too much of a treat at all. In an environment where any treat would be appreciated, you wouldn't think they would be overly picky.
Those giving 2 or 3-star reviews however, complain about the product being shattered, or turned to powder, and say that it is flavorless and lacking the icy goodness of ice cream. Oddly enough, there are few specific complaints about taste and consistency even among one-star reviews. Some call it interesting but not worth the money. The most frequent complaint seems to be the freeze dried ice cream being broken up, which you can cleary see in the great photo above, taken by the awesome Evan Amos. This is probably inevitable, and wouldn't really stop you from eating it. Evan's review was, "Freeze-dried Neapolitan ice cream bought from a museum. Hopelessly broken and cracked when opened. Tasted weird." Some reviewers complained about faulty packaging. "Overpriced" is also a common complaint.
Although some people do seem to enjoy the ice cream and actually go back for more and more, for most, it seems to be simply an interesting experience. Other freeze dried ice cream products are available, such as Astronaut Ice Cream Sandwiches. Opinions on these vary as well.
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