How To Train for a Mission to the ISS: Eating in Space

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield (right)and NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn participate in a food tasting session in the Habitability and Environmental Factors Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Photo credit: NASA

Food is important for everyone, for reasons beyond dietary and health issues, as sometimes just the right meal can make (or break) your day. That’s just one of the reasons why the space agencies involved with the International Space Station put a lot of work into creating a variety of foods for the astronauts and cosmonauts that are on long duration missions in space. And variety is key.

“On Earth, we take for granted that if nothing in your fridge appeals to you, you just go out,” Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield told Universe Today. “But on a long-duration mission in space, you can’t just order a pizza or go out for a burger or Baskin Robbins.”

“Space Vegetables, before and after. Tastes better than it looks,” Hadfield Tweeted.

The primary food on the ISS is supplied by NASA and the Russian Space Agency. Each of the other space agencies provide supplemental food, or special items, too.

“Space food is fine, pretty tasty, and of good variety,” Hadfield said. “It’s limited to food that has a long shelf life, with no refrigeration and no microwave, so it’s a lot like camping food or Army rations. The majority of it is dehydrated, so we add cold or hot water to it, like Ramen noodles or instant soup or powdered drinks. But we have a mixture of Russian and American foods, plus specialty items from Canada, Europe and Japan, so we eat really well.”

“Astronaut Diet – on 4-day prescribed meals of low sodium to test how my body reacts. This is lunch,” said Hadfield.

Crews eat three meals a day, with two snacks.

Hadfield explained the way it normally works is that NASA and Roscosmos each have a menu of hundreds of potential food items.

“So, some days when it is lunch time, our dieticians and food preparation kitchen have us over for a food tasting, and we try a mouthful of about thirty different things for lunch one day,” Hadfield said. “We rank them from 1 to 9, with 9 being ‘I could eat this for every meal for the rest of my life,’ and 0 being ‘this makes me gag.’ We do that in Houston for all the NASA food and in Russia for all the Russian food, and limited tastings for all the food that comes from the other partners.”

Space-grilled chicken. Via Chris Hadfield.

From there, the astronauts put together a list of the food they would like to have in orbit, in addition to the ‘generic’ or staple foods that are always on board. “The food that all the astronauts on average have rated the highest, they try to keep in stock on the ISS,” Hadfield said. “We also have bonus containers that are personal, where you have food that you ranked as ‘9,’ or you can bring in supplemental food from your country – in my case, Canada– so I can enjoy it and also share it with the other crew on special occasions or holidays that you’ll be on orbit for.”

Hadfield launches this week, on Dec. 19, and so will be on orbit for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

During Hadfield’s Expedition 34/35, the Canadian specialty food includes candied wild smoked salmon, smoked salmon pate, cranberry buffalo stix, cereal, dried apple chunks, fruit bars, green tea cookies with orange zest, maple syrup cookies, organic chocolate, honey drops, chocolate bars and maple syrup.

SeaChange Candied Wild Smoked Salmon that will heading to the ISS.

Some of this food was chosen as part of a contest held by the Canadian Space Agency, Canadian Snacks for Space.

The first shipment of the Canadian treats were delivered to the ISS on board the SpaceX Dragon capsule that brought supplies to the space station in October. The second shipment should be sent on an automated resupply spacecraft in February 2012.

Hadfield said the addition of Japanese and Italian modules on the ISS has also resulted in tasty international food being part of the regular ISS rations.

“Italian space food – scallopine, lasagne and freeze-dried pea and carrot blocks. Their tiramisu is delicious!” said Hadfield via Twitter.

Hadfield said the dieticians are interested in the balance of salt content, protein and carbohydrates as they want to keep the astronauts healthy, and to have them maintain their weight. But they also need to have food that is appealing. A well-known problem is that astronaut’s taste buds seems to go flat while in space, so spicy food is appreciated even though it might not be a favorite on the ground.

“The food is important, but sometimes things can happen,” said Hadfield, “like one of the resupply ships get delayed and your favorite food isn’t there, and you have to eat the leftovers of the previous crews, or eat a future crew’s food. So it never goes perfectly. So, part of being an astronaut is not being too picky!

Hadfield said they are provided a wide variety of lots of different food, and you can see Hadfield’s potential menu here.
But, like on Earth, mealtime is vital for other reasons, too.

“The food is important, but we also use dinner as a good time to get together and talk, relax, and be human,” Hadfield said.

“Crew at Breakfast – with our new Expedition shirts shining. Roman (left) is going to be a hoot to fly with,” Hadfield Tweeted.

As for what Hadfield’s last Earthly meal will be before he launches on Wednesday morning, it won’t be anything big or fancy.

“Imagine what it is going to be like to be in a small, cramped spaceship for two days,” he said. “My last meal will be beef broth.”

Note what Hadfield has in front of him in the image above, which he shared this morning via Twitter and Facebook.

Previous articles in this series:
How to Train for Long Duration Space Flight with Chris Hadfield
How to Train for a Mission to the ISS: Medical Mayhem

How To Train for a Mission to the ISS: Medical Mayhem

Astronaut Chris Hadfield with biomedical equipment attached to his forehead. Credit: Chris Hadfield.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield is scheduled to launch on Decemer 19 with crewmates Tom Marshburn and Roman Romanenko on a Soyuz rocket, heading for a long-duration 5-month mission on board the International Space Station. We’re taking a look back at his 2-plus years of training for this mission, which Hadfield shared via Twitter and Facebook, letting the public get an inside look at what it takes to prepare for a long-duration spaceflight.

The movie “The Right Stuff” depicted the grueling array of medical tests the early astronauts had to undergo in order to determine if they had… well, the right stuff to go into space. Now, more than 50 years later, with scientists and the medical community knowing quite a bit more about how the human body reacts to micro-gravity, the pre-flight medical procedures aren’t quite as intrusive. But astronaut Chris Hadfield says it is still part of being an astronaut.

“They do a nice job of telling how hard it is going to be, how invasive,” he said in an interview with Universe Today, “but none of that matters when it’s time to go to bed at night, when you’ve got six different probes stuck in you or a loud machine next to you, and you know you you’re not going to get a good night’s sleep.”

“Whether you are flying a spaceship or a T-38, it is good to be prepared,” Hadfield said, along with posting this image via Twitter.

Another part of medical training is having a forced special diet where “you have to document everything you eat, evaluating what happens at the other end,” Hadfield explained, “and they try to be as good and non-invasive as they can, but by its very nature it is invasive, and that’s the way it is.”

Hadfield said he knew about this going into the job. “It is absolutely part of the business so it is OK,” he said.

Hadfield participating in the VC Reflex test, an experiment for orthostatic hypotension, or dizzyness from low blood pressure, one of the most common physical complications of spaceflight. “Space Science: applying electricity behind the ears affects balance and thus blood pressure regulation,” Hadfield said.

Not only are there pre-flight medical tests and procedures, but all space station crew members undergo continual medical tests and evaluations during their time in orbit, becoming test subjects for various experiments as well as keeping tabs on their health while in space.

“We do regular urine, saliva collection and blood draws. We have to be able to take blood from each other or yourself. If you’ve never taken blood from yourself…” Hadfield said, letting the sentence trail off. Fun? Not so much.

“Astronaut physical for Space Station today – 18 tubes and a squeeze ball”

Thankfully, the astronauts don’t always have to poke themselves. “We have volunteers come in all the time and let me stick them with a needle so I can get good at drawing blood,” Hadfield said, “and we do a lot of ultrasounds – carotid artery and cardiac ultrasounds. We need to identify any changes that take place in the heart after extended zero-g. This is all very important for going beyond Earth orbit; we need to understand those changes.”

A day of medical training with dummies. “Somehow the sock makes it worse,” Hadfield said via Twitter.

Not only do the crew have to do medical tests on themselves, but they have to be prepared for any medical emergency, since there usually isn’t a dedicated medical doctor on the space station. However, Hadfield considers himself lucky: crewmate Marshburn is a medical doctor.

“There are various ways to get ill on board – some natural, like appendicitis, stroke, — or you could be in an accident.” Hadfield said, “Someone could bang their head coming around a corner, get pinched between equipment, get the bends coming in from a spacewalk, or be exposed to poisonous gas. Various things can happen.”

“We have full-911 capability on board,” Hadfield continued. “We can react, we can strap someone down, get them on oxygen, inject them with things to get their heart going again, or use defibrillators. We need to know how to intubate people and give them forced breathing. We need to know how to react.”

Medical training includes practicing emergency medical procedures such as stitches.

They have small pharmacy on board, and need to know a lot of procedures. “Of course we always have medical help on-call from the ground, but you could easily have to deal with a burn or something in an eye, so I’ve trained working in an emergency room at a hospital in Houston,” Hadfield said, doing things from making a quick diagnosis to inserting catheters or IVs, or sewing stitches on wounds “ so I can get comfortable doing those things to the human body.”

Astronauts on the ISS practicing CPR: “How do you give CPR without gravity to hold you down? Like this!,” Tweeted Hadfield.

This video shows some of the emergency medical training the crew receives:

Next: Astronaut Food

Additional articles in this series:
How to Train for Long Duration Space Flight with Chris Hadfield
How to Train for a Mission to the ISS: Medical Mayhem
How to Train for a Mission to the ISS: Eating in Space
How to Train for a Mission to the ISS: The Soyuz

Could the Next Planetary Rover Come from Canada?

Prototype of the new Juno rover, a 300 kg rover for a mission to Mars or the Moon. Credit: CSA

The Canadian Space Agency is well known for its robotics but they’ve recently expanded from robotic arms to building prototypes for five new rovers, designed for future lunar and Mars missions. They range from microrovers to full-sized science missions and range in size from 30 kg up to 900 kg. The largest of them, the Lunar Exploration Light Rover, is designed to carry a scientific payload and can be fitted with a robotic arm. It has a range of 15 km, can be operated remotely, or can be used to carry astronauts across a planetary surface.

A version of the Juno rover with tires. Credit: CSA

The two Micro-Rover prototypes, at 40 kg and 30 kg., are designed to be operated in conjunction with larger rovers, and can be tethered to them and lowered into otherwise inaccessible areas.

“On the Moon, permanently shadowed craters provide many interesting areas to find water and other volatiles, Jean-Claude Piedboeuf, Director of Space Exploration Development at the Canadian Space Agency told Universe Today. “These craters have steep slopes making it difficult and risky for a large rover. Therefore, sending a micro-rover tethered to its mother one gives us the ability to explore the bottom of these craters with a minimum risk. Sending only a micro-rover could be an option. However, they are very slow so it is more efficient to have them on a larger rover to cover long distance and deploy them when needed.”

The micro-rovers can also be used to work alongside astronauts, to gain access to small spaces like caves.

The rovers should be mission-ready by about 2020, and NASA is already interested. Most missions to Mars and the Moon involve geology, and sometime in the future, mining. For instance, NASA has an experiment under consideration that entails digging up soil on the Moon and making hydrogen and oxygen out of it. These designs are intended to fit in with those types of activities.

Space robotics technology has long been a point of pride for Canadians, Canadarm was a fixture on the Space Shuttles and made it possible to do things like deploying satellites like the Hubble Space Telescope and was instrumental in building the International Space Station. CSA also built the huge Canadarm 2 and Dextre, the highly dexterous dual-armed robot, both of which reside on the International Space Station. More recently, CSA contributed a robotic arm and other equipment to Curiosity, the newest NASA rover to land on Mars.

Artemis is a light-weight terrestrial prototype that can either be operated by a human nearby or at a remote location, or use its onboard sensors to scan its environment and navigate without the need for a human operator. Credit: CSA

The new rover designs will add to the fine lineage of Canadian space robotics. Once they are deployed on missions to the Moon or Mars, they may end up elbowing the Canadarm and Dextre out of the spotlight. If they do take centre stage, no feelings will be hurt. Many of the same people who worked on the Canadarms and Dextre are involved in the development of the rovers.

“MDA (MacDonald, Detwiler and Associates) was the prime contractor for Canadarm and Dextre and is prime on three rover prototypes,” said Piedboeuf.

With these rover prototypes, CSA has avoided the one size fits all approach to rover design.

“The fleet developed by the Canadian industry for the CSA covers the range of applications we envisage and that will be welcomed by our international partners,” said Piedboeuf.

Though the CSA doesn’t anticipate any other rover designs, these 5 prototypes could be focused “on more specific applications such as in-situ resource utilization or science,” explained Piedboeuf.

If you find the unveiling of 5 new rover prototypes exciting, you’re in good company.

“People in industry, academia and within the CSA were excited to develop these rovers that could be one day on the Moon or Mars,” said Piedboeuf. “The opportunity of working on prototypes of space rovers with challenging requirements and advanced autonomy was a great motivation.”

See more images and information on the fleet of rovers at CSA’s website.