Employees of the Food Concentration Industry Research Institute and Special Food Technology have been responsible for the nutrition of cosmonauts for more than 60 years. A TASS reporter visited a unique enterprise and learned how many recipes are in the space diet, how to make Olivier salad in weightlessness, and why American astronauts love Russian cottage cheese so much.
The Scientific Research Institute of Food Concentrates Industry is the leader among the three organizations involved in supplying food to Russian cosmonauts. The main direction of its activity is the development of technologies, implementation in production and restoration on the ISS.
Requirements for products, the ratio of fats, proteins, carbohydrates and microelements are developed by the Institute of Biomedical Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The Biryulyovo Experimental Plant is responsible for the direct production of food consumed in orbit.
The tubes fell into oblivion
Contrary to popular myth, cosmonauts don’t eat out of tubes. The institute staff answered this question with obvious composure. In the 1980s, astronauts started eating freeze-dried foods. Sublimation is an expensive, time-consuming and laborious method. Its essence is that moisture is removed from cooked and frozen foods under vacuum conditions. The volume and mass of food is reduced several times, and the beneficial properties are preserved up to almost 95%. The finished product is placed in an “anti-spill” bag, filled with warm water (58–85 degrees) and consumed through a special valve.
“Today, sublimation is the main method of food processing, but new methods of processing products for space nutrition have yet to be researched. But today, freeze-dried products meet all the necessary requirements“said the head of the space nutrition department at the Research Institute of Food Concentration Industry and Special Food Technologies Andree Vedernikov.
To be fair, there are also tubes in space food kits.
“We have four items in tubes – Moldavian Sauce, Apple-Cranberry Seasoning, Mustard, and Honey. These tubes are included in the power supply“, Explain Lyudmila Stoyanovachief engineer of the Space Nutrition Department of the Research Institute.
Currently, astronauts are fed a 16-day ration and a set of additional products. The contents of additional sets of products, thanks to which astronauts can diversify their diet, are chosen by the cosmonauts themselves according to their tastes during tastings on Earth.
Tablets will not replace food
If the products in the tubes looked like mashed potatoes, sublimation allows modern cosmonauts to eat almost the same as on Earth.
“For example, try this kharcho soup, it is absolutely earthly food, said Vedernikov. It’s both delicious and all the bits of food that are included are preserved. A cosmonaut is the same person who wants ordinary food. At the very beginning there was an idea that in space they could eat pills. We do not eat only because we need food for the body, taste and other qualities are important.”
Soups are a distinct merit of the institute. For 16 days, the first dishes are not repeated, every day the astronauts eat a new dish. Recent developments include red and green lentil soups with meat, pumpkin soup-mash with cheese and borscht with smoked meats. In total, the space menu includes around 400 dishes, including industrial products (yogurts, preserves, etc.). Cosmonauts have three meals a day – breakfast, lunch and dinner, but there is also an additional fourth meal. A cosmonaut consumes about 3000 kcal per day.
The staff of the institute is convinced that no nutritional concentrate and tablet can ever replace the usual space diet. The reason is simple – they do not meet the physiological needs of the human body.
“Our body is designed in such a way that if you don’t use something, it quickly becomes unusable“, highlighted Anastasia Shakleinaa senior researcher at the Stomach and Intestine Research Institute. Food must go all the way in its natural form.“
Fresh fruit and new packaging
The health and good mood of the space crew members directly depend on the work of the Institute staff. They communicate with the cosmonauts, discuss the individual diet of each of them and record all their preferences.
On each manned ship and cargo ship, cosmonauts receive sets of fresh fruits and vegetables, selected and processed appropriately for shipment to space.
“All products are canned, but these fresh products are simply necessary. Cosmonauts are always waiting for them and consume them with pleasure“, explain the specialists of the institute.
Food deliveries to the ISS are made throughout the year depending on the number of spacecraft launched. On each of them, fresh vegetables and fruits are sent without fail: apples, oranges, grapefruits, lemons, onions and garlic.
“If the launch is close to the New Year, we will definitely send tangerines. Tangerines are more difficult to deliver, they spoil faster, but thanks to our special treatment in the factory, they are stored for a long time“, says Andrey Vedernikov.
According to him, working with cosmonauts is incredibly interesting, but very difficult. The task of an employee of the institute is to take into account gastronomic preferences and form a diet for the entire flight.
In the near future, all existing flexible sealed containers for cosmonaut food will be replaced with an improved model with a pinch valve. The cosmonauts themselves ask for it.
“The function is required for packaging containing drinks and soups, so that during use the astronaut, if necessary, can close the valve and the unfinished contents do not fly out of the container in weightlessness“, stressed Andrei Vedernikov.
New packages have already been developed based on NIIkhimmash, and after testing is completed, they will go into space.
Like doctors who keep medical secrets about a patient’s health, the staff of the institute categorically refuses to divulge the eating habits of Russian cosmonauts. But they’re happy to talk aboutAnna Kikinathe only woman in the Roscosmos detachment.
“Cosmonauts always ask a lot of questions during training, but if we take Kikina, she surprised us, well done. Anna approached us very seriously, it was clear that food on board the ISS was not a subject passenger for her. She clarified each point. Excellent student! When during preparation they ask a lot of questions, it’s great, which means that there will be fewer questions in the space”, explain the employees .
Cottage cheese – cosmic gold
It is customary to exchange goods on the ISS, this tradition dates back to the times of the USSR. In addition, meals of representatives of different countries at the station can be arranged together. Americans are very fond of tasting products from the stocks of Russian cosmonauts. Although their own diet is also distinguished by an enviable variety.
“At first, the astronauts did not understand our borscht, their soups were mainly pureed. They also did not understand buckwheat porridge, then somehow it went, they learned about it, the Americans liked it. Astronauts are very fond of Russian poultry dishes: chicken meat with eggs, meat with prunes, chickens with white sauce. Delighted with our onion mashed potatoes. And, of course, the hit is cottage cheese with walnuts “says Lyudmila Ivanovna.
The fact that the astronauts themselves call cottage cheese “cosmic gold” is absolutely true. During pre-flight training in the field of nutrition, there is always a crew commander among the experienced cosmonauts who have already been in space.
“The commander advises the novice every time: order more cottage cheese. And our cottage cheese is really very tasty and is like gold, there is no such product in American cuisine. Americans trade with our cosmonauts for seafood, steaks, desserts,” says Andrei Vedernikov.
Russian cosmonauts, despite everything, consider domestic developments in nutrition to be the most useful and delicious.
“As some cosmonauts have said, when you eat American food in orbit, then if you don’t read the name, then you don’t know what you’re eating. With your eyes closed, you can tell borscht from kharcho by taste, etc. The Americans have simplified everything, but with a lot of spices that they add to the taste“, explain the employees.
Olivier in weightlessness
There are a lot of absolutely amazing stories in the collection of employees of the institute. Our cosmonauts manage to demonstrate purely Russian ingenuity even in weightlessness. In 2018, Alexander Misourkin and Anton Shkaplerov prepared a salad on board the ISS on New Year’s Eve, which they called “space salad”. The cosmonauts cut the ingredients directly into the bag so the pieces wouldn’t scatter around the station.
The salad consisted of fresh onions, sausages, pickled cucumbers, tinned potatoes, freeze-dried peas, scrambled eggs and mayonnaise.
“We sent the guys cucumbers for the holidays, and an extra set included sausages with mayonnaise“, remember the employees.
Cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev in June this year decided to celebrate six months since the birth of his daughter. True, it was not at home, but aboard the ISS. The Russian did not lose his head and used the resources of the additional set: cookies, shortbread, sweets and condensed milk. The cake was decorated with candied fruits in the form of candles, and on top the astronaut wrote the name of his daughter – Asya, and the number six.
Another funny episode happened in April this year – Russian cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveyev and Sergei Korsakov celebrated Easter on the ISS. And what’s a party without Easter cake?
Cosmonauts made it themselves from several types of cookies, honey gingerbread, tortillas, lemon-ginger jams and honey.
“Our cosmonauts will not disappear anywhere, they are incredible professionals, very enterprising and resourceful, it’s so interesting to work with them,” says Andrey Vedernikov.
Source and photo credit: Ekaterina Adamova/TASS