I was eating on the Moon one day, in the merry, merry month of July
You may be pleased, or not, my reading friend, to hear (read?) that yours truly, eager as I am to offer you an ever more varied selection of tasty viands, boldly went where I had not gone before in search of a topic for this week. And yes, I plead guilty to 2 counts of awkward paraphrasing, one against William “Bill” Shatner, an actor originally from the Montréal region of Québec, and one against Leonard Simon Nimoy. What’s this? You get the reference to the opening words of every episode of the classic television series Star Trek, but not the other one, which concerns Nimoy? You don’t? You really don’t?
I can only presume that you are not familiar with In Search of. Hosted by, you guessed it, Nimoy and broadcasted between April 1977 and March 1982, this American television series examined controversial / mysterious / offbeat / paranormal topics and events, in other words fortean topics and events, from unidentified flying objects to the disappearance of Amelia Mary Earhart and her navigator, Frederick Joseph “Fred” Noonan, not to mention the Loch Ness monster. From the looks of it, no less than 144 half hour episodes of In Search of hit the airwaves. As the 2 of us know very well, Earhart and Noonan were mentioned in September 2018 and May 2019 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee. Shatner and Nimoy, on the other hand, were mentioned in a November 2018 and an August 2017 issue of, well, you know how this sentence ends.
Incidentally, a few episodes of In Search of dealt with Canadian topics, namely:
- The Ogopogo Monster (Season 2, Episode 8), originally aired on 28 January 1978,
- Lost Vikings (Season 3, Episode 13), originally aired on 28 December 1978, and
- The Money Pit Mystery (Season 3, Episode 16), originally aired on 18 January 1979.
Said to haunt the waters of Lake Okanagan, British Columbia, Ogopogo / Naitaka was / is a Canadian aunt / uncle, cousin, niece / nephew, sister / brother, etc. of Nessie, the world famous Loch Ness monster, in Scotland. Chances are that, whatever was / is / will be seen in that body of water, there was / are no prehistoric creature(s) in either of these lakes. Pity.
Lost Vikings, on the other hand, dealt with the Vikings colonists / invaders, led by Leif Eiríkrsson, son of Eiríkr Thorvaldsson, also known as Eiríkr Rauð, or Eric the Red, who set foot on the mainland of the Americas, around 1000. Both of these individuals were mentioned in an October 2018 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee if you must know.
The Money Pit Mystery, finally, looked at the many treasure hunters who, since the late 1700s, have dug countless pits on Oak Island, off the shore of Nova Scotia, in search of riches deposited there by who knows who. Said searches were continuing as of 2019, incidentally. While it is true that a brilliant someone spent a great deal of time and effort to dig and protect the (in)famous money pit, the sad truth is that no treasure has been found. Yet.
Would you believe that an episode of In Search of (Season 3, Episode 16), originally aired on 6 December 1979, dealt with (in)famous hijacker D.B. Cooper, Dan Cooper actually, as we both know? Cooper was mentioned in a September 2018 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee.
If I may interrupt your train of thought for a moment, my reading friend, did you know that Spock 2.0, in other words Zachary John Quinto, hosted a new version of In Search of in 2018-19?
How do I know so much about In Search of? Well, back in the day, I was quite interested in fortean phenomena, in other words anomalous phenomena that seem to challenge accepted scientific knowledge. If truth be told, I must plead guilty to a serious case of interest in such phenomena. Would you believe that the term fortean was mentioned in October 2018, December 2018 and January 2019 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee? I told you I was interested in fortean phenomena, didn’t I? But back to our story. And yes, I am still interested in fortean phenomena.
Space food has not been with us for a long time but it has certainly changed a lot since the first journey into space of a human being, Soviet fighter pilot and cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin. As we both know, this gentleman mentioned in several issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee since July 2018 went into orbit in April 1961. And yes, Gagarin was provided with a somewhat austere form of sustenance during his brief foray into the void: pureed meat and / or chocolate sauce in toothpaste-style tubes.
The first American who ate in space, in February 1962, was John Glenn. He was also the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth, of course. Given that he would not stay up very long, Glenn’s menu was also somewhat austere: pureed beef with vegetables, and applesauce, in toothpaste-style aluminium tubes sucked through a straw; sugar tablets; and water. One or more astronauts of the Mercury program may, I repeat may, have tried out bite size foods during the stay in space.
In any event, Gagarin and Glenn proved that humans could take in, chew, swallow and digest food in a microgravity environment. Choking or breathing in food particles or droplets of liquid was not an issue. The, err, final stage of the digestive process had yet to be tested, of course, but I digress.
Based on United States Army survival rations, the food eaten by Glenn and the other astronauts of the Mercury program was, well, adequate. It was not particularly tasty, however. From the looks of it, most of the foods were developed by specialists at the Quartermaster Research and Engineering Command of the United States Army.
Spending more than a few hours in space raised the ante, food wise, considerably higher. The nutritional needs of an average human being are not exactly small. On top of that, food experts had to juggle a variety of considerations. Some of these were biological (safety, nutritional value, ease of ingestion, digestion and absorption, etc.), while others were operational (waste disposal, storage, stability, preparation, packaging, etc.) and engineering-based (weight, water use, power requirements, etc.).
The next phase in the preparation of menus for astronauts / cosmonauts was the introduction of dehydrated, freeze-dried, and bite-sized foods, coated with oil or gelatine to prevent crumbling. If I may be permitted to paraphrase the being put together by Victor Frankenstein, but not with words found in the world famous gothic / science fiction novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus, crumbling baaad. Why was / is it bad, you ask? Because particles of food can wander in all sorts of places in microgravity. The same can be said of fluids or any sort of particle, of course.
If I may be permitted a totally gratuitous digression, did you see the rather amusing duet in the excellent 1974 motion picture Young Frankenstein? If you must know, Frederick Frankenstein and the monster sung Puttin’ on the Ritz. The synthpop version of this song, performed by Dutch singer Taco, born Taco Ockerse, in 1981, was quite pleasant and did rather well. Mind you, yours truly rather liked / likes the 2006 speed metal version of the song by the Finnish band Leningrad Cowboys, but back to our story. Mind you, other songs on the album Zombies Paradise may also grow on you, namely Goldfinger, Happy Together, Manic Monday, My Sharona, Play That Funky Music, Ring of Fire, Starman, and What Is Love.
The dehydrating / freeze drying preservation process, say I, removed almost every water molecule from the putative space foods, without affecting their taste or nutritional value. It did, however, significantly reduce their weight and volume. Better yet, such food, once properly packages, did not require refrigeration. It could be kept at room temperature for long periods of time.
Each food item was vacuum packed in a laminated package with a one way water valve at one end. A hungry astronaut simply needed to inject water, cold water actually, into a package using a water gun, massage the content to rehydrate it, open the package with scissors and squeeze the content into his mouth through a flat tube stored in the package. I wonder if these packages of space food were / are the ancestors of the bewildering variety of packages used by foodie campers in 2019. And yes, that’s a lot of packages for one small paragraph.
The first time such solid food was consumed in space was apparently in March 1965, during the Gemini 3 mission, the first 2-person mission organised by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). This mission was also the first (and last?) during which food was smuggled on board a spacecraft. And yes, a July 2018 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee described how John Watts Young surprised his crewmate, Virgil Ivan “Gus” Grissom, by pulling a rabbit, sorry, a 2 day old corned beef sandwich out of a pocket in his spacesuit. Besides that July 2018 issue, Grissom was also mentioned in September 2018 and July 2019 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee. NASA itself was mentioned more than once in our blog / bulletin / thingee since March 2018, but I digress. Sorry.
A typical Gemini era meal might include beef with gravy, strawberry cereal cubes, peaches, and water. Alcohol of any type was / is strictly verboten. That last word means forbidden in German, if you don’t know.
From the looks of it, most of the foods consumed by astronauts of the Gemini program was developed by specialists at the food laboratory of Natick Laboratories, as the Quartermaster Research and Engineering Command was redesigned in late 1962. By then, Natick Laboratories was an element of the United States Army Material Command.
The food consumed by astronauts of the Gemini program was prepared and packaged by Whirlpool Corporation, a firm mentioned in a November 2018 issue of, you guessed it, our blog / bulletin / thingee. Some / many of these food items were made by an American food giant, Swift & Company. The gentleman in charge of this out of this world endeavour was Robert L. Pavey, director of special foods – the gentleman whose photograph was at the beginning of this article.
Given the highly variable fat content within the same cut or grade of meat, Swift & Company found it very difficult to control the weight of the standard size pieces it processed and delivered. Worse still, the company had to deal with the fact that the nutritional content of meat can vary quite a bit. All in all, it spent a lot of resources preparing, cleaning, inspecting and storing the meat that would be eaten by astronauts. Given the small quantities involved, almost all items were individually handmade.
Did you know that the United States Air Force (USAF) signed a contract with Whirlpool, in 1960, to build the world’s first space kitchen? The idea behind this experiment was to build a self-contained and integrated unit that could provide all the food and beverages a trio of astronauts would need for a 14 day mission in space. The Space Kitchen, with capitals of course, included a heated water system, a refrigerator, an oven, a freezer, storage spaces and disposal units for both solid and liquid waste. First seen in public in April 1961, it was demonstrated no less than 1 100 times, for 142 000 people, by / for the USAF and NASA, between that date and mid-1962. One can only imagine the number of times the Space Kitchen was demonstrated from then on. Whirlpool phased out work on its space kitchen, lower case of course, in late 1973. The Space Kitchen itself was seemingly scrapped.
Apologies for the many thingees. I say (type?) this because you may / will run across more thingees before you leave this webpage. You have been warned. Where was I? Oh yes.
Would you like to know where the water consumed by astronauts of the Gemini program came from, my reading friend? It was a by-product of the fuel cells mounted in their spacecraft to produce the electricity they required, and… Yours truly can feel a question coming. Here it comes. It’s almost here. What is a fuel cell, you ask, my ever curious if slightly annoying reading friend? As was stated in a March 2019 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee, a fascinating piece of scholarship if I do say so myself, a fuel cell is an electrochemical energy generator. In other words, it is a device for converting the chemical energy of a fuel, hydrogen for example, into electrical energy.
When NASA began to work on the Apollo program, it supervised the design of an improved food system. The water provided by the fuel cells could be cold or hot, for example, a feature much appreciated by the astronauts. Once injected in new, modified packages, this water was used to rehydrate foods that could be squeeze into their mouth through a flat tube stored in said package, or scooped up with a spoon.
In 1968, on Christmas Eve / Day, the crew of Apollo 8 used this revolutionary tool when testing a newly approved technology. If truth be told, they feasted on thermo-stabilised, and not dehydrated, turkey with gravy and cranberry sauce, eaten with a spoon. Forks were presumably deemed a tad too dangerous in a microgravity environment. One has to wonder if NASA also disapproved of nail clippers and large tubes of toothpaste or shampoo. Sorry.
The wetpack, as the type of wet food tested by the crew of Apollo 8 was called, was added to the menu of later missions. Yours truly wonders if said wetpack was / is the ancestor of the bewildering variety of food pouches used by people on the go in 2019. One should note that the crew of Apollo 9 proved that spoons could be used to eat the content of a package containing rehydrated food that they had opened with scissors. That option proved quite popular.
The astronauts of the Apollo program liked their spoons so much that this high tech tool and a new type of dehydrated food packaging associated with it became standard issue from Apollo 10 onward. The spoon-bowl package did away with scissors by including a large plastic-zippered opening which allowed astronauts to eat large pieces of rehydrated meat and vegetables that were almost Earth-like in appearance and texture. Some astronauts actually preferred food in spoon-bowl packages to that in wetpacks.
Fear not, I will not drive you bananas by listing the content of the pantry of each Apollo Command Module spacecraft that went to the Moon. And yes, the foods consumed by the astronauts were also prepared and packaged by Whirlpool. Some / many of these food items were, once again, made by Swift & Company. This company may have been one of the main, if not the main food provider for the Apollo program. I hear (read?) that, at some point during this program, Swift & Company was told to deliver products to a standard weight, rather than size. The new approach made its life easier.
Even though yours truly will not list every item in said pantry, I feel obliged to tell you that it seemingly contained, at least in theory, 75 drink packages, 57 meat / salad packages, 51 breakfast packages, 48 bite packages, 24 dessert packages, 18 dried fruit packages, 12 bread packages and 6 sandwich spread packages. On top of that, there were daily prepackaged colour-coded meals, known as Meals A, B and C, whose number varied depending on the length of a mission. Are you going banana, my reading friend?
Each Apollo Lunar Module / Lunar Excursion Module carried daily prepackaged meals, known as Meals A and B, whose number varied depending on the length of a mission, as well as individual food packages of various types.
While the availability of such a bounty led to greater acceptance and increased consumption, that same availability increased the time demands and complexity levels associated with meal preparation, especially when creating meals using items stored in the pantry. Who had the time to prepare a 5 course meal when going to the Moon?
One thing the astronauts presumably kept in mind was the need to put a germicide pill, after each meal, in the various packages they were eating from. This simple precaution inhibited bacteria, gases and spoilage which would be most unwelcome in the confined space of a spacecraft.
A thing that the astronauts presumably did not keep in mind, even though they were very cognisant of the fact, was / is / will be that it took / takes / will take approximately 185 kilogrammes of fuel to bring 1 kilogramme of stuff to the Moon. One could argue that the various types of rockets developed since the early days of space exploration / conquest / invasion, as impressive as they were / are / will be, were / are / will be (?) incredibly inefficient and wasteful.
It should be noted that the quality of foods improved quite a bit during the years of the Apollo program. The original fruit cocktail, for example, was crushed to such an extent during processing that rehydration proved difficult.
New food items were also introduced as time went by. The crew of Apollo 11, for example, had access to thermostabilised cheddar cheese spread, frankfurters and coffee (15 cups per person). That of Apollo 12 ate rehydrated scrambled eggs. The crew of Apollo 13 was the first to be supplied with dehydrated orange juice, a product that proved surprisingly hard to engineer. That of Apollo 17 had the pleasure of eating irradiated ham steaks and fruit cake.
As shocking as it may seem, Tang, an instant beverage drink in powder form often associated with the American space program, may not have been on the menu when the crew of Apollo 11 went to the Moon. Launched in 1959 by American food giant General Foods Corporation, Tang was soon available in 5 flavours, including orange, which was the only one normal humans had access to then. Would you believe that sales on this Earth remained poor until 1962-63, when NASA decided to use this product during space missions? Tang seemingly first went into space in 1965, with a Gemini program crew, unless of course it first went into space with Glenn.
Equally shocking was / is the fact that freeze dried ice cream, a staple of every aerospace / aviation / science museum or centre gift shop, was not on the menu when the crew of Apollo 11 went to the Moon. Indeed, this product may not have gone to space at all.
It goes without saying, and yes, I know, yours truly is about to say it anyway, that astronauts selected the foods they preferred before the start of their mission. NASA specialists then assembled these choices into nutritionally balanced meals that were submitted to the astronauts and further reviewed if need be. All in all, a whole slew of people of diverse skills, interests and backgrounds toiled in obscurity to feed the astronauts of the Apollo program. Dare I say that they, too, were hidden figures? That, my obtuse reading friend, was a pun. As you should know, Hidden Figures was a very successful 2016 film,
What’s this I hear? An egregious mistake, you say? One cannot have bread in space because of the crumbs? You are, of course, quite right about the crumbs. You are also quite wrong in thinking that Apollo crews could not make sandwiches. They could and did, starting with that of Apollo 10. The bread (white, rye and cheese) and sandwich spreads (chicken, ham or tuna salads, or cheddar) were specially prepared, preserved and packaged, separately of course. Nobody liked / likes a soggy sandwich.
Nobody liked / likes to suffer from gas or upset stomach either, especially when stuck for days on end in a living area the size of a closet. And no, popping open a window was / is not an option.
Interestingly, 6 of the bite packages in Apollo spacecraft pantries consisted of barbequed beef bites, with 4 bites per package. I wonder if said bites were in fact the Swift & Company cubes of roast beef, or Moon meatballs, mentioned in the caption of the photograph at the beginning of this article.
Six of the bite packages, on the other hand, consisted of pineapple fruit cake, with 4 bites per package. Hello, EP! Unfortunately, port was not on the menu.
There were, however, 3 packages of Canadian bacon and applesauce among the 51 aforementioned breakfast packages, which gives me an occasion to digress and pontificate. After all, either one acts as a curator or one does not.
Have you heard of the movie Canadian Bacon, a 1995 American comedy written, produced and directed by well-known American film maker, author and activist Michael Francis Moore? This motion picture, Moore’s only fiction film so far, satirised the sometimes difficult relationship between Canada and the United States. To make a long story (90 minutes) short (7 seconds), faced with sagging poll results, Canadian Bacon’s fictional president chose Canada as a convenient patsy he could declare war on.
Moore launched the project in reaction to the American government’s manipulation of the media during Operation Desert Storm, the January and February 1991 war waged against Iraq by a coalition led by the United States as a result of the invasion of Kuwait in August 1990.
And now for something completely different – and slightly subversive. Would you believe that, almost until the time of this invasion, Iraq was supported by the United States, some members of that coalition and some other Western countries? This brutal dictatorship bought weapons and received financial assistance, to some because it was waging a cruel war of attrition against Iran, a country seen by many as an enemy of Western civilisation, but I digress.
If truth be told, the Canadian characters of Canadian Bacon, however dense or absurd, were far less dangerous than the American ones. Moore, for example, gave himself a small role as an American gun nut. A viewer with open eyes will spot several well-known or not so well known Canadian actors and / or personalities: actor Daniel Edward “Dan” Aykroyd, the aforementioned Shatner, television host George Alexander “Alex” Trebek and wrestler Joseph Maurice Régis “Mad Dog” Vachon. Canada’s John Franklin Candy played a buffoonish American sheriff from the Niagara area.
Incidentally, Canadian Bacon was shot in Ontario (Hamilton, Niagara Falls, Oshawa, St. Catherines, Toronto, etc.) and in the United States. And no, the scenes depicting the rapids of the Niagara River were not filmed on site. St. Catherines, you say? Very good.
Yours truly would like to say that Canadian Bacon was a great movie. Sadly enough, while the first hour generated a lot of laughs, the last 30 minutes were quite underwhelming, but back to our story. Again. Sorry.
It should be noted that, fairly on, NASA developed a contingency / emergency feeding system if the cabin of an Apollo spacecraft became depressurised during the journey to or from the Moon. Now forced to spend the rest of their journey in their spacesuits, the astronauts would ingest liquid foods through a small port in their helmet.
Given the increasing length of their stay on the Moon, Apollo program astronauts had access to a canteen that could provide water or fruit flavoured beverages (Apollo 13 +) and high nutrient density food bars (Apollo 15 +) during their excursions. Both could be accessed from dispensers mounted on the neck ring area of the spacesuits.
And yes, from the looks of it, most of the foods consumed by astronauts of the Apollo program was developed by specialists at the food laboratory of Natick Laboratories. As I type this text, these laboratories were known as the United States Army Soldier Systems Center.
By the way, did you know that the British-born nutritional biochemist on the NASA team which planned the meals eaten by the crew of Apollo 14 onward came to Canada in 1953 with his family? Paul C. Rambaut was about 13 years old at the time. His family had just left South Africa in search for another home.
Rambaut got his private pilot licence while going to school in Weyburn, Saskatchewan. He graduated in biochemistry from McGill University in Montréal, Québec, then got a master’s degree. Some years later, Rambaut obtained a doctorate (in biochemistry?) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He completed his studies by earning a master’s degree in public health at Harvard University. After a year or so spent working for a private company, Rambaut joined NASA, in 1968. Would you believe he was aboard the United States Navy aircraft carriers which carried home the crews of Apollo 11 and Apollo 17, in July 1969 and December 1972 – the first and last crews to land on the Moon?
Besides his work on astronaut nutrition, Rambaut studied the effects of microgravity on their bones and muscles, not mention the effects of radiation. He was in charge of most of the medical experiments conducted for the Skylab program. You will undoubtedly know, my smart reading friend, that Skylab was the world’s second space station, the first one being Salyut 1 (April-October 1971) of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Launched in May 1973 and occupied until February 1974, Skylab crashed down to Earth in July 1979. Thanks to his command of the Russian language, Rambaut was involved in the discussions that led to the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. This first joint United States-USSR space flight took place in July 1975. In 1981, Rambaut was affected to NASA’s headquarters in Washington, District of Columbia, to act as manager of biomedical research.
And yes, my spacey reading friend, an Orbiter, or Space Shuttle, of NASA’s Space Transportation System first went into space in 1981. This type of vehicle was mentioned in some issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee since March 2018.
Rambaut left NASA in 1986 and soon became Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Scientific and Environmental Affairs at the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), in Brussels, Belgium. After leaving this position, at some point in the late 1990s or early 2000s, he served as a member of a NATO advisory panel on science and technology policy.
Oddly enough, Rambaut was the great nephew of eminent Irish astronomer Arthur Alcock Rambaut, Royal Astronomer of Ireland (1892-97) and astronomer at the Radcliffe Observatory, at the University of Oxford (1897-1923).
And yes, my reading friend, the august institution that was / is / will be McGill University was mentioned in December 2018, January 2019 and June 2019 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee. Yes ours, it is ours. You are as responsible as I am for this fine mess.
As I slowly put away my gear, only until next week of course, let me remind you that, in 2019, Russian space food was / is renowned throughout known space for being more diverse, natural and tasty than its American counterpart. The downside of this culinary success was / is that Russian cosmonauts sometimes clog the Russian and American Waste Collection Systems, or orbital outhouses, of the International Space Station (ISS), a space habitat mentioned in July 2018, October 2018 and July 2019 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee.
Did you know that some of the shooting stars you may see at night are in fact garbage containers from said ISS which are burning up in the Earth’s upper atmosphere? A question if I may, my reading friend. Would you approve the use, on an exhibition text panel dedicated to waste disposal on the ISS, of a title like Shooting Poop? Drop me a line and, err, hello SB, EG and EP!
Bon appétit tout le monde. See ya.
And no, yours truly does not want to go to space. If truth be told, I do not even like to fly. Paying an ungodly sum of money to eat plastic food and breathe recycled air in a tin can, with my knees tucked under my chin, amid the roar of engines and the wails of infants, hoping my luggage is not on its way to Antarctica, is not my idea of fun. I’m strange, yes, I know.
Besides, does one really need to cross a continent or ocean to go on vacation? The climate of our one and only lifeboat, good old planet Earth, is going to hell in a hand basket and we demand the right to play the violin. A comment made in July 2006 by the Anglican bishop of London, England, Richard John Carew Chartres, was quite interesting in that regard: “Making selfish choices such as flying on holiday or buying a large car are a symptom of sin.” A sentence found in 2006 by yours truly on the website of Atmosfair, a German environmental group, was equally interesting: “The best thing for the climate is not to fly at all.” I, myself, use the bus or train. Hello, boss, hello.
And no, I am no better than the average human. The truth is, I do not own an automobile because I am too cheap to buy one, not because I care about the floatability of our planetary lifeboat. Can someone please play the violin, something loud, real loud, so I don’t hear my conscience?
I wish to thank all the people who provided information. Any mistake contained in this article is my fault, not theirs.