Posted 13 January 2004 - 09:47 AM
I personally think food is extremely important to the success of a long-duration space flight, like the International Space Station. On Shuttle missions, the duration is short, so high quality food is less important to the nutritional and psychological well being of the crew. It's like a camping trip. What you eat or don't eat for two weeks isn't going to affect your long term health that much. It is important for them to eat and drink enough on Shuttle missions to stay well hydrated, etc, but if they eat poorly (skip meals, veggies, etc) for two weeks it's not a huge impact. Neither does the psychological impact of food come into play as much on the shorter Shuttle missions. There are some crewmembers who place food wants/wishes high on their list for Shuttle flights, but not very many. However, on ISS it is totally different. The crewmembers are on the space station for at least four months (six right now without Shuttles flying) and this is a long enough period of time that nutrition and psychology of food are really important. If you eat poorly for four to six months, you can have a significant impact on your health. Poor quality of food can lead to crewmembers consuming less food. Also, a lack of variety in the menu can lead to crewmembers consuming less food due to menu fatigue. Therefore, the quality and variety of food available become much more important on long duration missions. We have also had many comments from the ISS crewmembers concerning the importance of having the "bonus" food containers on ISS. These are a limited number of containers (usually four per expedition crewmember) that the ISS crewmember can select "off the menu" items to include. This would be like commercially available candies, cookies, etc that are not part of our regular menu, but are requested by the crewmember. The bonus container provides a means for the crewmembers to add extra variety to their menu and also to have more of an "ownership" of the items placed in the bonus container (especially if they are "off-the-menu" items). This illustrates the psychological impact of food on these missions. As far as research, we would love to have more dollars for actual product development. Only since 1998, have we been funded to actually create custom food items for spaceflight. Before then, we were totally dependent upon the commercially available food items. We now have about 50 custom food items that our food scientists have formulated. This has greatly increased the variety of food available to our ISS crewmembers. I would also like to have funds to research more about the psychological impact of food in spaceflight.