Six astronauts await a shipment of vanilla, chocolate and birthday cake ice cream launched today.
Credit: Courtesy of SpaceX

Today at 12:31 p.m. SpaceX launched vanilla, chocolate and birthday cake ice cream, plus some ice cream candy bars, skyward. The nameless Falcon 9 rocket ship left from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center and is bound for the International Space Station. Along with frozen treats, the Dragon capsule is carrying 20 mice and 6,400 pounds of cargo, most of it meant for experiments. The ice cream, meanwhile, is meant for eating. Apparently, there was a little extra room in the freezer.

The Falcon 9 will be NASA’s first launch in over a month. And we’re betting that the six astronauts who await the shipment are looking forward to the edible cargo. If you’ve ever paid a visit to a space museum, you’re probably familiar with the freeze-dried cubes of mystery matter that space crews never actually ate, but weren't far off from the tasteless food of space exploration's past. Even NASA admits that “the food that NASA's early astronauts had to eat in space is a testament to their fortitude.” Since those early days, the situation has reportedly improved. However, most menu items require a pretty long shelf life. Entrees and veggie dishes are frozen and beverages are often rehydratable.

Astronauts follow laid out calorie regimens determined by the National Research Council in order to meet the strict nutritional requirements involved for a human body in the unforgiving environment. They choose their meals 120 days in advance of their departure.

Even when edible items taste okay, they can be challenging to consume. As it turns out, gravity does a lot when it comes to the enjoyment of a meal. You can see here, the effort employed by Jack Fischer, a member of the station’s crew, when eating something as straightforward as pudding. We wonder if long-awaited ice cream will present any challenges.

The shipment also leaves another question unanswered. Why didn’t strawberry make the cut?