I imagine the Apollo 11 astronauts had plenty to do while they were hurtling towards the Moon, but from a bystander’s perspective it was probably pretty dull stuff. Still, it’s Day 3 of the mission, so let’s have a look at what they’ve got stashed away in their space age picnic basket.

In February 1962, when John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth in his Mercury spacecraft, there were concerns about whether humans would be able to successfully eat and drink in space.

After some tentative sips of water, with which he had some xylose sugar tablets, Glenn ate applesauce from a tube, and then a mixture of pureed beef and vegetable. Apparently he chose not to eat a tube of spaghetti. The tubes of food were an idea developed by the military for fighter pilots, which enabled them to eat without removing their gloves and helmet. Yummy.

A cosmonaut’s borscht soup tube
[Image via Wikimedia commons]

In fact, though, Yuri Gagarin had already had a meal in space, in April 1961. He also had to squeeze it from tubes, and had beef and liver paste, and a chocolate sauce dessert.

In those early days, cosmonauts ate better. The Soviets developed 30 different tubes of food to choose from, and also sent up bite-sized bread rolls that could be eaten without making crumbs (a surprisingly big hazard in zero-g) plus pieces of salami and fruit jelly. They had various sorts of fruit and vegetable juices.

Ready-to eat, “intermediate-moisture” and dry food bites for Apollo missions [Image credit: NASA]

By Project Gemini, NASA had introduced freeze-dried food in powder form or bite-sized cubes coated with gelatine or oil to prevent crumbling. Astronaut John Young carried two of these meal packages to trial on his Gemini 3 mission. He also, famously, took along a unsanctioned corned beef sandwich, which created crumbs and got him into trouble with NASA. Project Gemini astronauts could try shrimp cocktail, chicken and vegetables, toast, and even pudding, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the only water available for rehydrating food was COLD.

Apollo rehydratable food packages
[Image credit: NASA]

The Apollo program had a more sophisticated water system that could produce both hot and cold water, so an in-flight hot meal was finally an option. Each astronaut had their own meal plan, with meals individually wrapped in foil and colour-coded. There was also a ‘snack pantry’ where astronauts could find extra items without having to raid a meal pack. All astronauts to this point had lost weight in space, which was causing NASA concern.

Not all of the Apollo foods were dehydrated, some were processed and packaged to be edible in a relatively natural state, including chocolate bars and peanut butter. From Apollo 8 astronauts could enjoy wet-pack foods, something that could be eaten straight out of the packet without rehydrating and which would smell and taste like real food, even if it was cold. An improvement for Apollo 11 was the spoon-bowl packet, allowing for food to be rehydrated and warmed in a pouch, which was then opened with a plastic zipper and eaten with a spoon.

Apollo rehydratable food spoon-bowl package
[Image credit: NASA]

New food items for the Apollo 11 flight also included thermostabilised cheddar cheese spread and frankfurters. Sandwich spreads were packaged in aluminium cans, with an ‘easy open’ pull-tab that removed the top of the can.

On Day 3, the Apollo 11 crew were due to have peaches, bacon squares and apricot cereal cubes for breakfast, washed down with grape drink and orange drink (from rehydrated drink powders – but not Tang, which received a huge boost from its association with the space program).

For lunch they had cream of chicken soup, turkey and gravy and cheese cracker cubes, with chocolate cubes for dessert and a pineapple-grapefruit drink. The evening meal was tuna salad and chicken stew, followed by butterscotch pudding. Grapefruit drink and cocoa rounded out the day.

How to enjoy Apollo Chicken Stew
[For the record, it appears that the crumbly, freeze-dried ‘astronaut ice cream’ never actually made it into space.]

Buzz Aldrin said he enjoyed the shrimp cocktail, explaining that each shrimp had to be individually chosen to ensure they were small enough to squeeze out of the food packet. Neil Armstrong’s favourite meal was spaghetti with meat sauce, scalloped potatoes, fruitcake cubes, and grape punch, which he enjoyed on Day 2 of the mission.

It turns out that bacon was the most popular menu item for most of the Apollo astronauts, and the bacon cubes were included in the first meal scheduled to be eaten on the Moon. Are we nearly there yet?

Astronaut ice cream is a lie