Space Food: Not Without My Kimchi

If you think airline food is bad, spare a thought for astronauts on space missions and how they eat and drink in close to zero gravity conditions. One of the trickiest foods prepared for space travel so far has been the spicy Korean dish, kimchi.

Kimchi

A conventional dish of kimchi. Photo by Tristan Kenney.

Decades of research have gone into developing space food which is not only palatable and nutritious but survives the rigorous journey and can be eaten without floating away, breaking up or clogging equipment on board.

Several countries have been represented in space missions and most have catered to their astronauts’ culturally specific tastes: borscht and caviar for Russian cosmonauts, ramen and sushi for Japanese astronauts, even moose jerky for a Swedish researcher. But the Korean cabbage dish, kimchi, has proved especially challenging to adapt for space travel.

International Space Station

International Space Station: NASA/courtesy of nasaimages.org.

Kimchi is a staple in Korean cuisine and was brought by astronaut Yi So-yeon for her mission to the International Space Station in 2008. But it took years to create a space-ready version of the spicy dish. One of the key concerns was keeping bacteria at bay. Traditional kimchi is fermented and contains high quantities of microbes which are safe for human consumption (when prepared properly). However, the effects of radiation exposure from space travel on kimchi bacteria are unknown and no one was prepared to take the risk of creating dangerous mutant strains.

Kimchi is also a very smelly dish, so the version developed for the space mission had to be substantially less pungent to accommodate others at the International Space Station with Yi.

 

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