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Scientists have come up with some really creative ways to keep astronauts well fed in space for days and months at a time. But you should take some stories about space food with a grain of salt.

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And stick around to the end of this episode to hear more about this exciting new SciShow project! [ ♪ Intro ]. Astronauts have to clear a lot of bars to get to space.

Education, physical fitness...we expect our space explorers to be the best of the best. But they're still human. And sometimes, humans can be picky eaters.

So not only does the food we send on space missions have to be lightweight, shelf-stable, and safe for eating inside a space capsule, it has to taste at least okay. So, scientists have come up with really creative ways to keep astronauts well fed for days

and months at a time. Some of the stories of their success have been exaggerated though.

But even some of the misconceptions can tell us something about the challenges of eating in space. First up is the belief that NASA developed the powdered drink mix Tang specifically for space. The famous friendship between Tang and NASA goes back to 1962.

That year, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. And while the world watched on television, he drank a powdered beverage out of a pouch labeled “orange drink.” That was Tang. From then on, NASA and Tang were forever married in the public imagination.

But Tang was already available as a consumer product, just one that hadn't really caught on yet. For early astronauts, however, the flavored powder was a boon. See on early space missions, drinking water was either stored in metal tanks or made from fuel cells.

Hydrogen fuel cells generate electricity by joining together hydrogen and oxygen, and as a byproduct, they make water. Either way, space water tasted like metal. And Tang could cover up that taste.

And as a bonus, it also offered astronauts a few vitamins. So NASA went all in on Tang. They repackaged it in a microgravity-friendly pouch, but other than that it was the same product.

Astronauts just had to add water, stick in a straw, and drink. While NASA didn't invent Tang, the two did enjoy a fruitful relationship, in fact, they're together to this day. Now the second misconception is the idea that everything in space is freeze-dried, and there's no “normal” food at all.

It's true that astronauts eat a lot of weird stuff in space. Back in the day, they squeezed puréed meals out of what looked like toothpaste tubes, and ate it cold. Even now, after decades of space food R&D, astronauts still eat a lot of re-hydrated food out of airtight pouches.

But these days, they also eat a lot of normal things. For instance, they can eat fresh fruit, at least for the first few days of a mission, while it's actually fresh. On holidays, like Christmas and Thanksgiving, they get turkey.

The International Space Station even has the occasional pizza night. Today, there are around 200 items on NASA's space menu. It includes things like scrambled eggs, fish casserole, and nuts.

Being able to choose from lots of foods they like is a real morale booster for astronauts. And their psychological health is important, especially on long missions. Still, it is true that most of the astronauts' food has to be carefully prepared and processed, unlike on Earth.

There's typically no fridge or freezer in space, so all food has to be shelf-stable. That means it's often freeze-dried, powdered, or packed in airtight pouches. And it's taken a lot of work to figure out what that food should even be.

At first, NASA adopted army food, but it turns out the high salt and fat that's good for soldiers isn't great for astronauts. So, food scientists have spent years testing and modifying foods to come up with today's vast menu for space. And finally, even though most astronaut food is processed, it doesn't look like that foil-wrapped chalky stuff you buy in museum gift shops.

You know, those blocks of so-called space ice cream that do not resemble ice cream at all? That stuff has never been to space. It does have a connection to real space food, but a very distant one.

Freeze-dried ice cream actually was developed for spaceflight way back in the Apollo era. Engineers made it by freezing regular ice cream and using a vacuum pump to evaporate the ice, thus preserving the ice cream, sort of. It worked well enough to at least make it into the plans at some point.

A press release that went out before Apollo 7 said that freeze-dried ice cream was going to space. It just never got there. The astronauts on that mission say they never saw it, and it hasn't gone to space since.

The only ice cream astronauts get in space is the occasional scoop of the real stuff, which sometimes goes up in a freezer intended for taking medical samples back to earth. We've come a long way since astronauts were sucking food out of tubes with straws. It's taken a lot of ingenious ideas to get here, and the future of space travel will need even more creativity.

Like space farming. Yes, scientists are now working on growing food in space, since that's the only real way we can feed astronauts on long-distance missions. It's no surprise that all this space-age science leads to some confusion, but it's all in the name of keeping astronauts healthy and happy.

Bon Appétit! Ah! Before you go, we have a very exciting announcement.

SciShow has just launched Universe Unboxed, our very own line of science experiment kits. Universe Unboxed kits are designed for kids elementary school-aged and older, and they're packed full of fun experiments. Each kit teaches specific science concepts.

Not only that, though, in each one, we also explain how scientists use those concepts and how they matter in the real world. The “Defying Gravity” kit is all about creating illusions that teach you something about the world. Like making water float, which actually demonstrates the properties of water molecules.

Or making a bottle burp, which shows how temperature and air pressure are related. Each experiment comes with a video demonstration. And each video gives YOU the chance to guess what happened before explaining the science.

To buy one of these kits for yourself or your favorite kiddo, or to find them in a store near you, check out [ ♪ Outro ].