The menu on the space station

Even astronauts bring lasagne, sushi or goulash with them. But why is it so difficult to give up traditions?

Why is it so difficult to give up traditional food?

At the end of the 1960s, in the era of the Apollo missions and the first man on the moon, we were all convinced that in the future (the mythical 21st century), we would be munching on pills and cubes, dissolving freeze-dried powders in water, and sucking other foods through aluminium tubes. Just like astronauts did, when we saw them in black and white gulping things down from little metal trays, like on aeroplanes.

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If you weren’t born yet in the 1960s, you have to understand that we were all convinced we lived in the Space Age.

However, what no one told us then was that the astronauts found that stuff really disgusting. John Glenn, the first American astronaut, had started to complain about it. At least he was able to ascertain that in the absence of gravity you don’t choke, as some had feared, because to get food to the stomach all you need are the peristaltic movements of the oesophagus. Any complaints by his Soviet colleagues, meanwhile, were never made public. Since then, little by little, food in space has slowly become more decent. The availability of hot water on the Apollo space shuttles meant that freeze-dried food could at least be rehydrated. The first frozen foods were on Skylab. Today, astronauts can look forward to their favourite dishes at least a couple of times a week.

How does it happen that supermen and superwomen like astronauts, who during their training learned to overcome extreme physical and psychological stresses, get to indulge in their favourite treats? It’s because the pleasures of the table have deep roots. It’s about identity, community and reassurance. And depriving astronauts of these things, especially on longer missions, would be a useless torment.

Who knows how we got it into our heads in the 1960s that we would have been able to do without them ourselves. It’s clear that we had very naïve ideas about the future. A future that was actually only beginning.

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