Posted on 12 Jun 2015 22:32
We know precisely when the first food was eaten in space by a human being. We know who at it, and we know what he ate. The date was April 12, 1961. And, no, it was not a famous American astronaut. Some sources say, in fact, that the first meal in space was either Scott Carpenter in 1962, or John Glenn. In fact, John Glenn was actually the first American to eat food in space. But he was not the first human being to do so. Instead, the first meal was eaten by a Russian Cosmonaut. This occurred at a time when we knew very little about what kinds of foods would work in space.
First Food Eaten In Space
Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin was the first human to travel in to outer space. He made his voyage in the Vostok spacecraft, and made a complete orbit of the Earth on April 12, 1961. He ate his food from tubes, squeezing it out just like you'd squeeze out toothpaste. His main meal was a tube of beef and liver paste, and his dessert was a chocolate sauce.
What to eat in space and how to eat it wasn't such a simple thing to figure out. There was a time when we could not be sure humans could eat in space at all. Can we even swallow in zero gravity? Would the food get stuck half-way down? So, the first foods and beverages consumed in space were of a tentative nature. The were experiments. For instance, one of John Glenn's missions when he first orbited the Earth on the Friendship 7 in 1962 was to drink water! Things could have gone very badly, but Glenn was able to swallow water with no problem.
First Vomit in Space?
Another Soviet Cosmonaut named German Titov, in fact, had eaten two meals during his 1961 flight, and had vomited it all back up. This was cause for concern, but it turns out that Titov was just suffering from "space sickness."
After John Glenn drank his water, with which he had some xylose sugar tablets, he ate applesauce from a tube, and then a mixture of pureed beef and vegetable. He chose not to eat the tube of spaghetti that was taken along.
Food in Tubes
Most of the ideas for what to eat in space had come from the military. For example, food in tubes had been developed for fighter pilots by the American Can Company in the late 1940's. Fighter pilots needed a way to eat without removing their helmets and gloves. The food itself was based on Army survival rations. So, food in tubes was used by both the Americans and the Soviets for the early flights. It made sense because of the concern that other types of food would produce crumbs which would fly around the space craft in the zero gravity environment and reek havoc with the sensitive instruments. The crumbs might clog up the air vents, or get stuck in the electronics. Tubes had already been proven to work, but the Astronauts did not exactly find such food a culinary delight. The taste was bad and they found squeezing food into their mouths unpleasant, to say the least.
The Soviets actually expanded the menu early on much more than America, giving their cosmonauts over 30 options in tubes. They even tried little rolls that could be eaten in one bite…no crumbs! They also had pieces of salami and fruit jelly. They drank juice, including berry and beet juice.
The American program, focused more on the technology of the food than the variety. After John Glenn's successful meal during his flight, Scott Carpenter, on his flight, had tried to eat a cookie. He got a bunch of crumbs floating around his face for his trouble. The American program introduced freeze-dried food both powdered form and bite-sized cubes. This food had to be rehydrated and was not any more popular than the tubes. Freeze-drying was improved, however, and the Project Gemini astronauts during the mid-60's had shrimp cocktail, chicken and vegetables, toast, and even pudding.
Through the years, there have been many changes to how astronauts eat in space. Today's space food uses the same kind of packaging that the U.S military used in MRE's or "meals read to eat." When you buy a package of tuna in a pouch at the grocery store, you are seeing the same type of packaging.
For more information on the history of food in space, consult the following resources:
Food in Space by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
Space Food by the Space Foundation
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