Eating Like an Astronaut: Do They Serve Steak in Space?

Planning out a space mission involves plenty of people. It is not a simple task to where they simply put a rocket to space and hope for the best. Much detail goes into determining the flight projections, the mission objectives, and the flight window going back home. There are also logistical issues, such as how many astronauts would be tagging along and what they will eat. Other relevant human basic needs are also given a great degree of attention, such as the type of food they would be consuming while flying.

Different Needs

We know that depending on the kind of activity we perform daily, we need a different kind of diet. For example, if we are making investments in the gym to achieve a beach body, we might need more carbohydrates and proteins in toning our muscles. The same goes when astronauts go into deep space. They will be up there for a considerable amount of time, exposed to radiation, lacking sun, and floating around weightlessly. Dr. Scott Smith, a nutritional biochemistry expert at NASA, said that weight loss is usually an unintended consequence of space travel for a variety of reasons, including diet and the way the body changes during travel.

He revealed in an interview that there is a reason why healthy individuals are selected to be astronauts. They need not worry about pre-existing conditions like hypertension or kidney disease, as the body of the astronauts could handle that degree of stress. Still, they do have to take particular note of the kind of food they eat to ensure they get the best there is to sustain life in space. At one point, they had the astronauts use an application that tracked their food intake.

Dr. Smith also shared that there are various challenges astronauts face in space that could be solved by proper nutrition, such as the eyes being unable to focus (refraction issues) and the body is exposed to some levels of radiation. Some changes in fluid intake could help resolve some of these problems.

They are also gathering data on how the lack of sunlight affects the body and how these could be solved. One source of data used by NASA is the observations from those who are spending a good chunk of their time doing research in Antarctica, a place where very little sun could be seen.

Weight Loss

Due to the environment being gravity-free, astronauts experience weight loss for at least two reasons, bone loss and actual body mass loss due to lack of exercise. The first could be solved by having them eat more calcium-rich food, while the latter could also be addressed by space exercises. Exercise experts are given credit for designing a handful of exercise regimens being used by those stationed at the International Space Station. We do have to give our experts credit for coming up with many solutions.

One other problem is the presence of a higher degree of oxidative stress while in space due to not having enough sunlight exposure. When in space, the blood volume decreases by as much as 10% to 15%, resulting in more iron parts per blood volume. While on Earth, doctors worry about iron deficiency, and health insurance providers have programs to help people with that problem. Space doctors have to consider what an oversupply of iron might do to an astronaut. Given that the heart does not like oxidative stress, there are potential cardiovascular issues that might arise as well. Hence, one solution is to lower the sodium being consumed by the astronauts. Does this mean bland food? Not necessarily, as there are other ways to add flavor to the food.

Food Intake Monitoring

As mentioned above, scientists have developed a way for astronauts to monitor their food intake and one reason behind this is to ensure that they do get the necessary greens in. Each astronaut is unique, and they also have food preferences, right? While one might eat broccoli, others might not. Whatever they substitute them with from their arrow of choices, so long as they make greens a regular part of their food consumption, they are making investments towards their health.

Food Flavor

Do they serve steak in space? We have not heard of anything like that yet—but they have grown meat in a lab setting in space, which is a very substantial development as one key issue they also have is food flavor and variety. Dr. Smith says that they usually swap out their menus every eight days so that astronauts do not get stuck with a single course of food for a stretch of time. He admits, however, that this is not an easy task due to the limitations they have to face. Astronauts could not really crave pizza and have it delivered to them in 30 minutes or less (at least for now).

All in all, space diet is not the most pleasant of all, but a great degree of consideration by the greatest minds on Earth has been given to ensure that astronauts eat the best kind of food that their circumstances and body needs.