As we continue to discover the reaches and limits of human space exploration, one part of extraterrestrial travel that must always be accounted for is food. Scientists are doing everything from growing lettuce on the International Space Station to spending months on end in Mars colony-like living conditions to (gulp) recycling human waste. And while food, as a nutrient, is a necessity, NASA and other space organizations are finding that so, too, are variety and taste.
On Monday night’s episode of Explorer on the National Geographic channel, host Ted Danson will invite viewers to step into the lab where astronaut food is made and packaged by culinary scientists for space missions and, yes, even taste-tested by the astronauts themselves.
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The segment, titled “In Space No One Can Hear You Chew,” features interviews with astronauts like Karen Nyberg and Terry Virts and Chef Alain Ducasse, as well as other experts who weigh in on the particular role food plays on board. Since every pound of food costs about $1,000 to send up, it’s vital that every meal be nutritious as well as, well, edible. Astronauts’ diets are monitored very carefully while on a mission to ensure they’re eating enough, because weight loss or missing out on certain nutrients can lead to bone and muscle loss or, worst case, death.
Nyberg explains that variety helps curb more than boredom, but also provides psychological benefits, saying, “if you were asked to eat the same thing every single day, after a while it would get you down.” Virts agrees, adding, “comfort food works in space as well as on Earth.”
The need for interesting eats while in orbit doesn’t stop with throwing some vegetables and sauce into a pouch. Chefs like the twenty-one Michelin Star awarded Ducasse are being brought in to elevate the cuisine that will be enjoyed in microgravity. Decades removed from John Glenn’s 1962 meal of a tube of applesauce, astronauts have since dined on foie gras and duck confit. (And no, never freeze dried ice cream.)
With that kind of promise, who knows? We might soon be seeing a mass exodus of chefs to Mars.
Explorer airs Monday nights at 10 p.m. (9 p.m. Central) on National Geographic.