inside sources print logo
Get up to date Delaware Valley news in your inbox

HOLY COW! HISTORY!: Space on Your Plate

Things were supposed to be so different by now. Futurists predicted that by the 21st  century, we’d travel in helicopter cars, vacation on Mars, and all would be wearing those nifty space jumpsuits.

It didn’t turn out that way.

One thing they especially got wrong was food. However, Americans’ fascination with the early Space Age did send folks over the moon for several astronaut-related products.

Time to revisit three food fads from a future that wasn’t.

NASA’s early programs seized the country’s fascination like nothing before. Space was hip, cool and trendy. And one product shouted “space” like no other: Tang.

It burst onto the scene when John Glenn drank it during his Friendship 7 flight on February 20, 1962, one of several items he consumed to test eating in orbit.

General Mills shrewdly capitalized on the drink’s 15 minutes of fame. Everyday folks could taste the glamour of spaceflight themselves right in their own kitchen.

Tang was the brainchild of prominent food scientist William Miller. He also gave us Cool Whip, powdered egg whites, and that exploding candy that had absolutely no connection to space (despite many urban myths to the contrary), Pop Rocks. They disappeared for a while 30 years ago and later returned. Tang has always been available.

Then there was Astronaut Ice Cream. It was freeze-dried to eliminate water and sealed in a pouch, removing the need for refrigeration. It also removed anything recognizable to human taste buds. If you’ve ever had some, you know it tastes like fiberglass insulation.

Yet despite having “astronaut” in its name, the stuff never made it into space. NASA hired Whirlpool to produce freeze-dried foods that could be used during long trips to the moon. And this one didn’t go, despite widespread claims to the contrary.

A report somehow made it into the press that Astronaut Ice Cream was consumed during Apollo 7’s mission in 1968. But it wasn’t. Astronaut Walter Cunningham ought to know; he served on that mission and later told an interviewer, “We didn’t have any of that stuff.”

Astronaut Ice Cream still has a following among hikers and campers because it’s light and occupies little room on backpacks. Tastiness, apparently, is incidental to many hikers and campers.

That brings us to our final product. It had the least imaginative name of all: Space Food Sticks. Unlike Astronaut Ice Cream, this one really did take the E-Ticket trip aloft. Scott Carpenter consumed three small food cubes while traveling in Aurora 7, just 90 days after Glenn downed Tang. (Apparently, nobody at Cape Canaveral considered serving them together as space’s answer to wine and cheese.)

Pillsbury trotted out its version around 1970, calling it a “nutritionally balanced” snack, the granddaddy of today’s energy bars. Instead of bite-size cubes, it was packaged in stick form in a sealed container to appear more “astronauty.”

Many aging Baby Boomers distinctly remember eating them. They had a reputation for not being too bad. (Though if you put enough sugar in anything, you guarantee its appeal to a 9-year-old’s palate.)

Pillsbury’s food engineers also invented relish that could be served by the slice, cake that didn’t crumble, and meat that didn’t need refrigeration. Surprisingly, there was no demand for them.

Space Food Sticks faded from store shelves as the glory faded from the space program. You can still find them in space museum gift shops and online.

Futuristic foods from the Final Frontier are now oddities from a bygone era. Today’s trend is toward natural foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, and away from pre-packaged processed edibles. Ironic, isn’t it?

And we didn’t get those nifty space jumpsuits, either. Bummer.Please follow DVJournal on social media: Twitter@DVJournal or

BAGLEY: A New Era of Space Travel Is Reshaping Life on Earth

Four astronauts recently embarked on a six-month journey to the International Space Station. Their mission comes months after the start of NASA’s ambitious Artemis program, which has already sent a spacecraft to the moon and back and plans to send the first woman and the first person of color to the lunar surface in 2024. These latest space missions are part of a broad expansion of the space economy that represents a new space exploration age that will reshape life on Earth.

This new era of exploration is brimming with potential for the broader lessons gleaned from living in an environment as extreme as space. Spending time in space forces us to innovate and pivot quickly when something goes awry. This applies to many global issues and personal challenges, from environmental sustainability to getting a good night’s sleep in a busy environment.

This is, partly, because space travel is becoming more common, comfortable and convenient. After two years of carrying astronauts for NASA, SpaceX launched its first private charter to the ISS last April. Blue Origin has already sent more than 30 people into space, including celebrities Michael Strahan and William Shatner. Virgin Galactic has more than 700 people signed up for suborbital trips later this year. As space travel becomes more common, the technologies that astronauts use to eat, sleep, work and function will follow suit.

To flourish off Earth, humans must rely on an array of new technologies, many of which are just beginning to emerge. Neurotech — the sensing or stimulation of the nervous system (invasively or not) for physical, mental and emotional wellness — appears promising. Sleep wearables tackle the neurological roots of sleep problems by showing the brain how to fall asleep and stay asleep all night. This technology could support astronauts as they experience 16 sunrises and sunsets daily in orbit, guaranteeing proper rest and focus.

To prevent muscle atrophy and blood flow problems in microgravity, astronauts must exercise two hours daily. Additionally, training to live and work in orbit can be challenging while they build muscle memory. To help with these issues, astronauts could use new technology that provides electro-stimulation of the primary motor cortex, effectively helping them learn movement faster.

Health and wellness is just one sector where public-private partnerships advance science and technology that will shape our lives on and off Earth. The food industry shows similar promise as how we grow food in space has vast implications for developing sustainable food systems in challenging climates and environments on Earth.

NASA recently held a Deep Space Food Challenge to evaluate ideas for novel food production technologies and systems that require minimal resources and produce minimal waste while providing safe, nutritious and tasty food for long-duration human exploration missions. 

The industrial design firm I co-founded was among the organizations that took up the challenge and submitted a design for a space culinary lab. Our lab is designed to mimic the terrestrial kitchen experience, offering a laser grill, algae bioreactor, aeroponic garden, and beverage homogenizer. The lab’s small footprint and simple design allow for maximum flexibility, allowing astronauts to make a vast variety of meals — just like in their kitchen at home. 

Other winning teams have taken a more singular, focused approach. A team of biomedical engineers from Tufts University is developing a way to transform insect cells into “meat” as a source of stable, protein-rich food matter that can be produced in space. A doctoral student at the University of Florida is enabling astronauts to bake fresh bread in space.

For those of us staying firmly on Earth, these innovations offer a variety of foods and fresh nourishments that food deserts lack. Empowering people to easily grow their own nutritious foods and lessen dependencies on the monetary and planetary costs of fuel and supply chain logistics has proved increasingly volatile and chaotic.

This next ISS crew will conduct more than 200 experiments across various subject areas. Their discoveries will play an essential role in expanding our frontiers while driving technological transformations on Earth. And as we learn more about survival in the harshest and most desolate environment imaginable — space — we will also expand our understanding of what it means to be human.

Please follow DVJournal on social media: Twitter@DVJournal or