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Out Of This World Food Traditions

As we gather around our dinner tables for Thanksgiving, many food traditions will ensue, everything from turkey to stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy. Similarly, NASA has a long history of food traditions, too.

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As we gather around our dinner tables for Thanksgiving, many food traditions will ensue, everything from turkey to stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy. Similarly, NASA has a long history of food traditions, too. Here are some examples of how food has impacted our space program:

Holiday Meals in Space

NASA / Via Flickr: nasablueshift

Humans have continuously lived and worked onboard the International Space Station since the year 2000. As a result, many astronauts have spent holidays in space. But just because they’re in space doesn’t mean they can’t have some traditional holiday foods.

This year on Thanksgiving, the six crew members living on ISS have a meal that includes traditional holiday favorites with a special space-food flair. The menu includes irradiated smoked turkey, thermostabilized yams, freeze-dried green beans, cornbread dressing, home-style potatoes, cranberries, and cherry-blueberry cobbler.

When astronauts go to the space station, they’re allowed to bring some additional foods they’d like to have on board (provided those items meet space station standards). Some astronauts have brought icing and cookies so they can decorate cookies for Christmas.

Here's a message for Thanksgiving from the International Space Station:

View this video on YouTube

NASA / Via

Peanuts at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory/James Rickman / Via Flickr: losalamosnatlab

If you watched the Curiosity rover land on Mars in 2012, you may have noticed that a lot of the NASA personnel at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory were munching on peanuts as they anxiously awaited confirmation of touchdown. They weren’t just having a snack – they were eating the peanuts for good luck.

Good-luck peanuts made their first appearance in 1964 during the Ranger 7 Mission. After six failures, the pressure was on to succeed. A mission trajectory engineer later recounted, “I thought passing out peanuts might take some of the edge off the anxiety in the mission operations room.” It’s been tradition at launches ever since, including the launch of Curiosity in 2011. Since the Voyager mission in 1977, peanuts have also been present during important, high-anxiety mission stages like orbit insertions, flybys, and, as in the case of Curiosity in 2012, landings.

Shuttle Launches Followed by Beans and Cornbread

NASA / Via

At the Kennedy Space Center, it was tradition to eat beans and cornbread after a successful space shuttle launch.

This tradition began with the very first shuttle launch (STS-1) in 1981. On launch day, NASA Test Director Norm Carlson brought in a small crock pot of beans and some cornbread. After the shuttle launched successfully, happy and hungry team members quickly ate up the food. A tradition was born. As the number of participants grew after each successive launch, Carlson upgraded from crock pots to an 18-quart cooker and eventually the task of cooking the beans was turned over to the center’s food-service contractor. The call “beans are go!” became a signal that the shuttle had launched successfully and it was time to unwind with a warm, celebratory snack. By the final shuttle launches, twelve 18-quart cookers full of beans (a total of 60 gallons!) were prepared and offered to the launch crew.

Want to make your own “Successful Launch Beans”? The recipe is below:

Courtesy of Norm Carlson, former NASA Test Director Chief

Put 6 lbs. of dried great northern beans in an 18-quart electric cooker.

Cut 10 lbs. of smoked ham into cubes.

Add ham and ham bones to beans.

Add 1/2 shaker of lemon pepper.

Add 3 lbs. chopped onions.

Add 2 stalks chopped celery.

Add 1 tsp. liquid smoke.

Cover with water and cook for at least 8 hours.

All-American Meal for Final Shuttle Crew

NASA / Via

NASA food scientists prepared an All-American meal for the final space shuttle crew as a way to mark the last voyage of the iconic American spacecraft.

The crew’s menu included grilled chicken, Southwestern corn, and baked beans. Dessert was apple pie, of course.

Want to make your own version of the meal? You can find the full recipes here.


NASA / Via

First flown on the space shuttle in 1981, M&M's® chocolate candies have been a staple ever since. Known as "candy coated chocolates" in NASA jargon (NASA does not endorse commercial products), they have been a staple for astronauts ever since. Noted for their ability to stay in one piece in very extreme conditions, they have been a favorite for acrobatic microgravity dining feats.

Dinner Parties

National Geographic / Via

Like humans on Earth, the astronauts on the International Space Station don’t always have time to come together for meals, but they gather for food when they can. In 2012, NASA astronaut Don Pettit wrote about etiquette for entertaining in orbit. His guidelines included:

1)“Have plenty of food, and serve your very best. Now is the time to break out those thermal-stabilized pouches of beef steak that you have been hoarding.”

2)“It is important to dress up your galley.”

3)“Clean the food scissors. Scissors are needed to open food pouches, as tearing them along the built-in perforations usually results in liberating hot droplets of fatty ooze and other asteroid-like particles.”

4)“Always have a loaner spoon available.”

5)“Always put out new tape” for securing containers to the table.

6)“In space, catching food in your mouth is considered polite.”

Morning Espresso (Coming Soon!)


Soon, the International Station will have its very own espresso machine, known as ISSpresso. Italian engineering company Argotec and Italian coffee brand Lavazza collaborated with the Italian Space Agency to develop a capsule-based espresso machine that will work in microgravity.

Until ISSpresso, astronauts drink freeze-dried/instant coffee. With ISSpresso, they will be able to get brewed coffee. The ability to have a morning espresso or to take a coffee break will bring a taste of home to the International Space Station.

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