At the 2011 International Mars Society Convention, Dr. Jean Hunter of the Mars Desert Research Station answered a question very close to all of our hearts: Why is food so important? But in this case, Dr. Hunter is referring to the necessity of food specifically for astronauts in space. She affirms that “food is essential to the crew’s health and to their physical performance,” but her research and experiences have led to an understanding that “it’s also essential psychologically” and more emotionally significant than some may have previously understood:
“Imagine yourself on Mars, in a small habitat, where the four walls – or maybe the one circular wall – never change; where the view rarely changes; where you can’t go outside and take a walk; where your company is the same every day; where your schedule is the same every day. And when you’re under stress from either the demands of your work and of maintaining your environment, or under the gun from the folks back home who are expecting you to get a lot of work done (that you maybe don’t have time for), then food represents a source of comfort. It represents a source of variety in your life. It is a link back home – to Earth – and to your experiences with food from your childhood and your past. All of the good things that you remember about food can be evoked by what’s on your plate tonight at dinner time.”
With our feet on the ground and our tummies often full of fresh foods, it is easy to unrelate to (or not imagine at all) living and eating in a zero-gravity environment, far away from any grocery store or restaurant. Still, astronauts have been experiencing this way of life for a very long time. And though their food has evolved, it cannot compare to the comforts of home.
The Early Days of Astronaut Food
In 1962, aboard the Friendship 7, John Glenn dined on tubed meats and applesauce, as well as sugar tablets. Mr. Glenn was not the first to eat in this fashion. According to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, tube-contained food for space travel was “based on Army survival rations, and consisted of pureed food packed into aluminum tubes and sucked through a straw.” A few years later, solid-food options were (thankfully) developed.
Dehydrated and Freeze-Dried Food in Space
Freeze-dried and dehydrated space food made it into orbit in 1965 during the Gemini 3 mission. John Young and his crew were the first US astronauts to take a bite of (rehydrated) solid food outside the Earth. To do so, they injected water into a dried food package using a specially designed water gun. Once the water was injected, their food was ready for consumption within minutes. According to NASA, the dried and dehydrated foods menu included “shrimp cocktail, chicken and vegetables, butterscotch pudding, and applesauce.” The introduction of hot water during the Apollo mission, made rehydrating even faster and easier for future astronauts.
Harmony House Foods Gives Marsonauts A Taste of Home
At Harmony House, we are inspired by the history, developments, and evolution of space foods – some could argue dried and dehydrated space food got us where we are today. So imagine our excitement when Dr. Jean Hunter wrote us directly to tell us about the positive impact our dehydrated meals had on her and her research team at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah:
“Our Mars analog crews in Utah are delighted with your unseasoned soup mix sampler in quart jars. The first twelve jars just flew out of the pantry and we are halfway through our second case. There are so many reasons that this product is better for our crews than other long term storage soup mixes with beans. Low sodium and wide variety of course, but there's more. The beans in your products are precooked so they finish at about the same time as the vegetables. When conventional dry beans are used in such mixes, the soup has to cook for 2-3 hours, soak overnight first, or go into a pressure cooker. Less convenient and the veggies get overcooked. But not yours. Finally, your mixes are vegan, kosher and gluten free, which helps us to accommodate people on special diets among the 60-90 "Marsonauts" that we host at the station each year. You have come up with a really good solution for soup mix that solves the three problems of long cooking, over-seasoning, and gluten sensitivity all at the same time. Many thanks for this high quality product line."
Dr. Hunter, your message makes us beyond proud. We hope you and the Marsonauts continue enjoying our version of “space food” for many missions to come!