“There’s a lot of expectations when you send a Frenchman into space,” Pesquet said during a European Space Agency news conference last month. “I’m a terrible cook myself, but it’s OK if people are doing it for me.”
Space cuisine has come a long way since Yuri Gagarin, the Soviet astronaut who in 1961 was the first to reach space, squeezed puréed beef and chocolate sauce from toothpaste-like tubes. The food for John Glenn, who 10 months later became the first American in orbit, was not any tastier. He swallowed some apple sauce.
Nowadays, astronauts get to share the culinary creations of their countries, and the world’s space agencies are showing that while life in space is hectic, an astronaut should at least be able to enjoy a quality meal now and then. That’s why Pesquet and his crewmates aboard the station will get to dine on dishes prepared by three separate French culinary institutions. “Obviously, all my colleagues are expecting good food,” he said. Alain Ducasse, a chef who operates renowned restaurants around the world including Benoit in Manhattan, has collaborated for years with the French space agency to create menu items available to astronauts aboard the space station.
In addition, another Michelin-starred chef, Thierry Marx, and Raphaël Haumont, a physical chemistry professor at the University of Paris-Saclay, have created some dishes specifically for Pesquet. The two run the university’s French Centre of Culinary Innovation and had cooked some meals for Pesquet’s first trip to the space station in 2016. (Pesquet and Marx had met by chance at a judo conference a few years earlier. Both are black belts.)
Pesquet, a former Air France pilot, also asked Servair, a catering company for Air France and other airlines, to devise some dishes for him. “I’ve enjoyed their food for a long time,” he said. Pesquet will not be dining on lobster and beef bourguignon every day. These meticulously prepared dishes are intended for celebrations of special occasions like birthdays, with enough servings for Pesquet to share.
But even everyday space cuisine that NASA now provides for astronauts these days is “pretty fantastic,” said Shane Kimbrough, the NASA astronaut who is the commander of Friday’s SpaceX mission. Ryan Dowdy, who just left NASA after managing food on the space station for more than two years, says there are some 200 items on the menu to ward off monotony. “There’s no grocery store,” he said. “You can’t DoorDash anything. You got to make do with what’s there.” He touts the pulled beef brisket and the macaroni and cheese as particularly scrumptious. “It needs to remind people of their experiences of eating food on Earth,” he said. “It reminds them of all those good things in this really stressful spaceflight environment.”
Still, food in space cannot be exactly like food on Earth. Much of it is freeze-dried, with the water extracted, to reduce its size and volume. Other foods are heated to high temperatures to kill off germs so that they can sit around at room temperature, sealed in cans and plastic bags, for a couple of years before being eaten. Space food should also not be crumbly, disintegrating into bits that could be inhaled or float into sensitive equipment.
Chang is science reporter with NYT©2021
The New York Times