ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer plans to take a small slice of Saarland to the International Space Station.
Later this month, chefs from his home region in south-western Germany will whip up a selection of spaceworthy dishes and put these out for public vote. The most popular will be added to Matthias’ space menu for his future mission, but he will not taste the winning Saarland speciality until he is on board.
Matthias says good food is extra important for astronauts on long-duration missions – not only in terms of physical health, but also for mental wellbeing.
“Bonus food like these Saarland dishes not only allows to add variety to the usual daily space food, but also provides a way to bond with crew mates and boost morale. We get to share a little something from our culture and enjoy a taste of home,” he explains.
Creating cosmic cuisine
While Matthias is looking forward to a tasty Saarland treat, his full space menu will comprise a range of food designed to meet nutritional and operational requirements on board.
Because of the two hours of exercise they perform every day on the Station and a full schedule of science and operations, astronauts are expected to consume approximately 3000 calories per day in space. For ESA astronauts such as Matthias, two thirds of this calorie intake come from the basic food supply that is preselected and prepacked by NASA for the entire space mission.
The final third of their calories comes from ‘crew choice meals’ – food that the astronauts choose for themselves, either from the US menu or a range of European, Russian and Japanese options.
Before any mission to the Space Station, the astronauts participate in several space food tasting sessions to help determine what dishes will be included in the basic food supply. During a training course they test a range of different food and drink items and rate each of them in a questionnaire. This information is then provided to NASA’s food lab which determines the final food package.
“I really like the Russian space food. It is incredibly tasty,” Matthias says. “Many astronauts recommend having a lot of different types of food available during the mission so I plan to select a large variety of bonus food from Europe, Russia and Japan.”
During recent food tastings Matthias was also able to determine which foods he might miss the most.
Besides good coffee (“finding a good alternative to that is a main priority to me,” says Matthias), it is also hard to prepare vegetables in a way that meets the requirements for preservation because all dishes sent to the Space Station need to remain stable and edible for 2-3 years.
“It is very difficult to meet these requirements and have vegetables that taste as they would on Earth. It is just not possible to put salad in a can and preserve its fresh and crisp taste,” he explains.
That makes the idea of a special mystery dish from Saarland all the more appealing.
“While we are flying around the world, we can also enjoy a culinary trip as we share food and experience each other’s cultures. I am very much looking forward to sharing a little piece of my homeland with my crew mates during a future mission and look forward to the surprise of seeing which dish the people of Saarland will choose.”