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Looking through information regarding food for ISS, one thing caught my eye: a lot of canned food for Russian cosmonauts (as a side note, they apparently have bread (and crackers!) there too (demonstrated in video below, in Russian, with English subs), despite all the crumb restrictions):

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Found some ESA canned food as well:

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But couldn't find photos of NASA canned food used on ISS.

That's excessive packaging mass (compared to plastic) to put in orbit, and excessive volume (because it's pretty hard to squish/compact a used metal can, again, compared to plastic) in a (waste) cargo ship on the way back.

I know I probably wouldn't get a good referenced answer by asking why Roscosmos and ESA do use metal cans for food (obvious benefits would be achieving guaranteed sterilization with high temperatures and very long shelf life), instead I decided to ask perhaps easier question to start with:

Did NASA ever supply food to astronauts that was contained in metal cans (and/or do they do it now for missions on ISS)?

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    $\begingroup$ I think you could ask that question and get an answer @LeoS. $\endgroup$ – GdD Dec 6 '19 at 8:18
  • $\begingroup$ Here a video/photo of Thomas Pesquet with canned food. geekwire.com/2016/christmas-space-features-french-cuisine $\endgroup$ – Antzi Dec 6 '19 at 8:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Antzi Those might be cans provided by ESA , not NASA. $\endgroup$ – Sergiy Lenzion Dec 6 '19 at 8:52
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Yes, it wasn't uncommon.

Types of food used on the first 25 Space Shuttle missions included thermostabilized food in flex pouches or cans, rehydratable foods and beverages in square packages, and IM and NF foods in transparent plastic pouches.

(emphasis mine)

IM = Intermediate Moisture

NF = Natural Form

enter image description here

Apologies for picture quality. The can label says "Peaches"

From Space Shuttle Food System Summary

This picture of Ellison Onizuka in the Orbiter middeck from STS-51C shows a food can on his tray.

enter image description here

(Image credit: NASA)

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm also a little curious if anyone's been using military rations in space. $\endgroup$ – ikrase Apr 5 at 3:37
  • $\begingroup$ Were the cans custom made brands-- with anything special done to them? $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn Apr 5 at 9:15
  • $\begingroup$ @MagicOctopusUrn the linked document says they were "commercially available". AFAIK they changed the labels and stuck a piece of velcro on them. I am not 100% sure about this though, but I'm pretty sure JSC did not have a canning plant. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Apr 5 at 13:50
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Canned food was also used in Apollo, starting with Apollo 10.

A more recent development in thermostabilized-food packaging for manned space flight is the use of rigid aluminum cans with full-panel pullout lids . This type of can was used in space for the first time during the Apollo 10 flight in May 1969. The package proved so successful that its use in the Apollo food system was expanded to include virtually all categories of thermo­stabilized foods commercially available in aluminum cans fitted with full-panel pullout lids.

Apollo Experience Report: Food Systems

Such foods included

  • meatballs with sauce
  • beef and gravy
  • turkey and gravy
  • sandwich spreads (chicken salad, ham salad, tuna salad, cheddar cheese, peanut butter, jelly)
  • peaches
  • mixed fruit

Apparently, they were rather disgusting:

Syneresis, or separation of a liquid from a solid, occurred in some of the canned sandwich spreads, particularly the ham salad. The free liquid escaped when the can was opened, and the salad was too dry to spread.


The question also mentions Russians using canned bread. Apollo 13 tried serving bread in plastic pouches. It turned out to be a bad idea.

The crew commented on the positive pressure in the bread packages, which was expected since there was only a slight vacuum on these packages. Any additional vacuum would compress the bread to an unacceptable state, and if the packages were punctured, the bread would become dry and hard.

Apollo 13 Mission Report, p. 9-4

Packaging bread in cans solves both the pressure and moisture problems.

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