Astronaut Diet – Shaun the Sheep, a specially trained astronaut, has been assigned a seat in the Artemis I mission towards the Moon. This series of blog posts by ESA covers Shaun’s preparations and training leading up to launch.
While there are many technical issues involved in planning missions to the Moon or beyond, the most important question is what astronauts (both humans and sheep) should eat for dinner.
Astronaut Diet – Yuri Gagarin became history on 12 April 1961 when he became the first person to travel in space on board his Russian Vostok spacecraft. He was also the first to eat space food, by squeezing meat paste out of an aluminum tube into his mouth. He also had chocolate sauce for dessert, and ate it the same way.
Similarly, astronauts who were on longer missions later on also ate food from tubes. These early experiences showed that humans can eat and swallow without any ill effects. However, the meals were not particularly appealing.
The quality of food has improved significantly. The food is more delicious and visually appealing. It’s also sticky enough to eat in any weather conditions. Even though crews can have food tailored to their tastes on the International Space Station, it must still be packed in a way that makes it easy to store for long periods.
The vital role of diet is crucial in maintaining mental and physical health, particularly during long-duration space station missions. To combat the effects of prolonged stays in microgravity on muscle and bone health, astronauts must exercise at least 2 hours per day and eat nutritiously balanced meals.
The average astronaut will eat three meals per day while in space, and consume between 2500-3000 calories each day. ESA astronauts get two-thirds of their calories from basic food supplies that are pre-selected and prepared by NASA for the entire mission.
The third-most calories come from ‘crew choices meals’, which are food the astronauts select from either the US menu or from a variety of European, Russian, and Japanese options.
A sheep’s average daily hay intake is between 2 and 3% of its body weight. We know Shaun isn’t your average sheep. Shaun can often be seen enjoying the fresh grass at Mossy Bottom Farm and the delicious fruits and vegetables on offer. He also enjoys a treat with the Flock, and sometimes enjoys a pizza.
Shaun is happy to report that pizza has been a favorite of astronauts at the International Space Station for many decades. In 2001, the Space Station received its first pizza from space via a resupply vehicle.
Astronaut Diet – Paolo Nespoli, an ESA astronaut, casually mentioned in 2017 that he was missing pizza. His ground support team decided to load all the ingredients onto the next resupply vehicle. This allowed Nespoli and his crewmates to enjoy a truly unique pizza night!
These pizzas are made with tortillas as their base. This is because bread was absent from the space menus in the past. According to the story, Rodolfo Neri Vela from Mexico, a Space Shuttle STS-61B astronaut, requested that tortillas were included in his food supply in 1985.
His fellow crewmembers discovered that tortillas were not able to create crumbs, and could be used to make sandwiches, or hold other food items, once he was in orbit. The tortillas have been a favorite of astronauts since that mission. They are now a standard food on the Space Station and can be used to make breakfast burritos or hamburgers as well as pizza.
It is important to drink water. The usual recommendation for a temperate environment is about 3-3.5 litres daily. The European Service Module of Orion’s Orion spacecraft contains four water tanks. These titanium tanks are large enough to support long Artemis missions. They hold 240 litres each of potable water, which is then pumped to the crew capsule when needed.
For astronauts on long-duration mission, fresh fruit and vegetables can be difficult to provide. Crews are able to get a limited amount of fresh fruits and vegetables from visiting vehicles, which they eagerly consume. This is great news for Shaun who understands the importance of a baaa-lanced diet.
Astronaut Diet – You can also grow your own fruit and vegetables, although this has been limited and experimental. After earlier trials that had shown that lettuce grown in the Veggie NASA plant growth unit was safe for consumption, astronauts declared that the space-grown vegetable was delicious.
Thomas Pesquet, an ESA astronaut, is growing peppers aboard the International Space Station. Credits: ESA/NASA
However, the ultimate goal is to grow food on a spacecraft, or in greenhouses on Mars or Moon. The minimum time it takes to reach Mars is two to three years. Therefore, there are no resupply vehicles to replenish astronaut supplies. Food must be either well-packed and have a long shelf-life or grown in space.
ESA has set out to develop a closed-life-support system that includes water recovery and food production. This will allow astronauts in space to be supported indefinitely, without the need for expensive supplies from Earth. This technology could be used to help Earth communities that lack access to clean air, food, or water.