Have you ever wondered what was the first food eaten in space?
I’m fascinated by the logistics of eating in zero gravity and how space agencies solved this challenge.
Join me as we explore the very first meals consumed beyond Earth’s atmosphere.
Yuri Gagarin Ate Pureed Meat During the First Human Spaceflight
On April 12, 1961, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to journey into outer space. During his 108-minute orbital flight aboard Vostok 1, he subsisted on pureed meat packed into toothpaste-style tubes. This specially prepared beef and pork paste provided Gagarin with protein and nutrients while conforming to strict weight limitations. Sucking meat through a tube may seem unappetizing, but this simple meal fueled the historic mission that opened the Space Age.
John Glenn Enjoys Applesauce on Friendship 7 in 1962
The following year, NASA astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth. On February 20, 1962, Glenn circled the planet three times in the Friendship 7 spacecraft. His in-flight snacks included applesauce, which was packed in an aluminum tube similar to Gagarin’s meat puree. Applesauce provided Glenn with energy and vital nutrients while conforming to strict weight limits. It was also easy to swallow in zero gravity. While not haute cuisine, the applesauce fueled Glenn during his record-setting 4-hour and 55-minute flight.
Early Space Foods Like Cubes and Freeze Dried Powders
As space programs advanced in the 1960s, new food technologies emerged to nourish astronauts on longer missions. Nutritious bite-sized cubes and rehydratable powders offered lightweight, compact nutrition. Cube-shaped foods like franks, bread cubes, and brownies were coated with gelatin to prevent crumbling.
Dehydrated and freeze-dried foods were compressed into powders, reducing weight and storage needs. To eat, astronauts added water to rehydrate the food. These early space meal technologies balanced nutrition, taste, and practical storage constraints. While not as appetizing as fresh foods, they fueled pioneering journeys beyond Earth’s orbit.
Skylab Astronauts Grew and Ate the First Space Lettuce in 1973
The first instance of growing and eating food in space came in 1973 aboard NASA’s Skylab space station. As part of the station’s student science program, Skylab 3 astronauts germinated lettuce seeds while in orbit using a “vegetable growth unit” designed by high school students. After 23 days of growth assisted by water and light, the astronauts harvested and ate the first space-grown lettuce.
They reported it tasted similar to lettuce on Earth. While not a sustainable food source, this pioneering experiment showed that vegetables could be grown and eaten beyond Earth’s atmosphere. It paved the way for continued agricultural research that may one day allow for fresh produce to supplement preserved foods on long-duration spaceflights.
The Shuttle Era Sees the First Beverages and Condiments in Space
During the space shuttle era starting in 1981, astronauts began to enjoy more variety with their meals. Special containers allowed liquid foods like soups and juices to be brought on missions. Salt and pepper shakers allowed astronauts to season their preserved foods for the first time. Condiments like ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise were packed in tubes similar to toothpaste so they could be spread on foods.
Beverages like coffee, tea, and lemonade were also provided in powdered form to be mixed with water. While the food was still primarily pre-packaged or freeze-dried, these additions offered a welcomed improvement in taste and texture. The shuttle’s expanded capabilities allowed for these creature comforts that early space explorers did not have access to.
Diversity of Foods on Mir Space Station in the 1990s
The Russian Mir space station, operational during the 1990s, had more room for food storage and preparation compared to previous spacecraft. While freeze-dried foods were still heavily used, the Mir crews enjoyed occasional fresh fruits and vegetables from Earth. Care packages with treats were sometimes delivered by supply ships, giving astronauts a welcomed taste of home.
The station even had an oven to warm foods and cook fresh bread from time to time. While the food was far from gourmet, the variety and ability to prepare some dishes on board greatly improved the dining experience compared to earlier space missions. The crews benefited both physiologically and psychologically from the comforts of more diverse and flavorful foods.
What was the first American food eaten in space?
The first American food eaten in space was applesauce, squeezed from a toothpaste-style tube by John Glenn during the Mercury-Atlas 6 mission in 1962.
What was the first food eaten or used in outer space?
The first food eaten in outer space was in 1961 by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who had a tube of puréed meat during his Vostok 1 mission.
The first foods brought into space needed to be easy to eat without gravity. Applesauce and puréed meat in toothpaste-style tubes met this need in the early 1960s space missions of Yuri Gagarin and John Glenn. As space travel advanced, more complex food systems were developed, but those first foods eaten in space provided important lessons for the future.