On Thursday, while you're nestled in your home, enjoying food with friends and family, take a minute to think about how lucky you are that your Thanksgiving turkey isn't freeze-dried. This fact alone puts the meal miles ahead of Thanksgiving in space. The crew on the International Space Station (ISS) consists of Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore of NASA, Flight Engineer Terry Virts of NASA, Flight Engineers Anton Shkaplerov, Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova of Russia’s Roscosmos and Italian Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency.
These six people make up the Expedition 42 crew who will be enjoying their Thankgiving (well, the American astronauts I assume will extend an invite to their fellow crew) about 268 miles from earth. When it comes to space food, "enjoy" is really more of a relative term as all the food is freeze-dried, irradiated, and thermostabilized. Yummy.
Interestingly, food hasn't improved much throughout the tenure of the space program, despite the exploration of the possibility of a 3D printed pizza.
That being said, the ISS is being used as a laboratory so we can learn if and how to grow food in space for longer missions to Mars and other planets.
Unfortunately , right now that means that what's for dinner on Thursday isn't as delicious as what you'll be having. The crew will be debatably thankful for their meal of irradiated smoked turkey, thermostabilized candied yams, and freeze-dried green beans and mushrooms. If that doesn't do it for you, the meal will also come with NASA's "famous" freeze-dried cornbead dressing. You just need to add water!
And for dessert? No pumpkin pie for this crew. It's thermostabilized cherry-blueberry cobbler for everyone. (Just like mom didn't used to make.)
Space TurkeyLuckily, there may be delicious hope for future astronauts. The laboratory scientists onboard the ISS have been experimenting with different fresh veggies that might work for future trips. One option is sweet potatoes, which is a carbohydrate and supplier of beta-carotene. It's particularly adaptable to being grown in space because it's totally fine with artificial light and adaptable to a few different training techniques. Plus, side shoots can be consumed in addition to the traditional potato.
That doesn't mean all foods will be grown onboard since some will just be packaged and stored for longer periods of time, but space sweet potato sounds much better than irradiated turkey.