Recently in an episode of my favorite podcast, America’s Test Kitchen, the hosts talked to Mary Roach, author of Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void about astronaut food, eating, and what happens after eating.
In discussing the history of space food and eating at NASA, Mary explains a curiously human tangent to all the science. When space flights transitioned from a couple days in a cramped cockpit to spending months in space stations, the astronauts found their environment was missing an essential piece of equipment: a dinner table.
What? A table in space makes no sense. With no gravity, food won’t stay on the table any more than will silverware or cups. Hell, even the astronauts will need to be tethered to it to stay in place, and from a purely scientific and technical viewpoint, a table is just wasted space. But the astronauts basically said “look, if we have to eat this horrible stuff that passes for food, the least we can enjoy is the communal aspect of eating together around a table,” proving that even highly trained astronauts need to be reminded of their humanity.
So, now, before cutting open their plastic packages of nutritionally-balanced, dehydrated dinners, the astronauts gather ’round a fold-down table, strap their feet to the floor, and toast their Tang to good landings. It might not be anything close to eating a rib eye at Delmonico’s (or even chicken and waffles at Roscoe’s), but having a place for everyone to sit down and fill up helps them to feel a little less like canned sardines. Just goes to show that putting humans first should be the focus of every endeavor, whether it’s providing IT to earthbound companies or eating meals in a Zero-g environment.