For astronauts on orbital missions, living in space for extended periods presents many logistical challenges. One of the most basic involve, well, one of the basic necessities of life: It’s fairly simple to pump oxygen into a space station so the inhabitants can breathe, but giving them things to eat is another matter. Refrigeration isn’t possible in space, because it’d take up too much of a space station’s precious energy better used for both research and life support, so technicians down on Earth have resorted to innovative preservative methods to keep our space scientists fed.
But space food’s come a long way since the freeze-dried ice cream and Tang of 60s Space Race lore. In fact, every country with a space program has its own specialties to bring into the void.
Russia’s harsh climate means its traditional foodstuffs are hardy and well-preserved in their terrestrial forms–anyone familiar with Russian cuisine will note the staggering variety of pickled and salted items. And since the Russians were one of the first two space powers, as the Soviet Union, they have a long and proud space food tradition. Russian cosmonauts are indomitable in their taste for caviar and borscht as the stereotypical Earthbound Russian has. Given the digestive consequences of this diet it’s unsurprising that the Russians have a specific bathroom of their own aboard the International Space Station.
The French are as proud, and indeed snobbish, about their native food as the Russians are, if not more so. France is the place where haute cuisine as it’s understood in the modern world was born and named, and it’s home to many famous culinary academies and chefs. So we have France to than for the fanciest space food of all time. Alain Ducasse, the world-renowned chef with nine Michelin Stars under his belt, developed a means to send duck, Breton lobster, and various terrines, among other French classics, last year in his culinary laboratory. Although Ducasse has previously sent food into space since 2006, this is to be his biggest production yet, due for spaceflight this summer.
Isolated as it is by the ocean, Japan has developed a lot of unique foods that virtually no other cultures in the world consume in much quantity. Any Japanese person abroad would miss having their daily matcha to drink, for example, so the Japanese Space Agency has space-ready green tea for its astronauts, as well as specialties that are familiar abroad, like sushi and udon, and those that are less so, like ume, or salted plums.
Traditionally, Swedish culture calls for hospitality. After all, in an Arctic climate, you need to be assured that whomever you come across in a blizzard will be willing to take you in for the night and keep you fed, warm, and alive. So Swedish astronaut Krister Flugelsang wanted to show his NASA colleagues from the States some traditional Nordic hospitality around the winter holidays in 2006, and requested to bring plenty of smoky, hearty jerky for Christmastime. The Americans’ sensibilities were offended, however, when Flugelsang offered reindeer jerky. (The Swedes don’t have the legend that Santa’s sleigh is pulled by flying reindeer as Anglophone people who celebrate Christmas do.) To avoid the unfortunate implications of munching on Donner and Blitzen whilst Father Christmas made his rounds Earthside, the Swedish space program substituted moose jerky instead. Maybe the Swedes could have just said that like their own legendary god-hero Thor’s goats, Santa’s reindeer can be killed and eaten and then regenerate good as new.