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I read at some point about a Shuttle mission that ended up lasting longer than initially intended, and the crew had to eat more awful-tasting food for the last few days, because they had eaten through the appetizing one through the first part of the flight.

Why would they bring that with them on the mission in the first place?

Weren't they able to taste-test the menu before the flight?

This question is not about early missions, like Apollo and Gemini, where it was unsure how good food would taste in micro gravity.

I unfortunately can't seem to find where I read about the long STS mission being left to eat bad food. I believe it was on this site, but I could not find it among the questions tagged [food].

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    $\begingroup$ Not answers due to not having a linkable source but may also be that after a period in orbit eating similar food ANYTHING from the menu was starting to get a bit samey. $\endgroup$ Dec 19 '20 at 22:20
  • $\begingroup$ So they wouldn't eat it all at once! $\endgroup$
    – Dan
    Dec 20 '20 at 14:45
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    $\begingroup$ If stuff is rationed, its pretty normal to leave the not-that-great stuff until the end in the hopes you won't need it, right? I mean, have you ever been backpacking or done any activity where you only had limited amount of food? You usually don't start with the stuff that isn't all that great, you keep that as reserve. Add the fact that taste changes wildly in space for not exactly understood reasons, and its easy to see how this happens. $\endgroup$
    – Polygnome
    Dec 20 '20 at 18:22
  • $\begingroup$ Even the tastiest food on long distance airplane flight reportedly tastes a bit bland, and that's for people who have been in flight for a few hours, and not at zero g. Air pressure is one standard atmosphere in the ISS, but gravity is not at one standard gravity. Reduced pressure and reduced gravity both have deleterious effects on many things, and that apparently includes sense of taste. $\endgroup$ Dec 21 '20 at 0:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Polygnome yes, but my question was why not bring more of the tasty stuff instead of the bad stuff, so when you've finished the good stuff, you still have more good stuff to eat $\endgroup$ Dec 21 '20 at 11:44
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Taste-testing on Earth is good (what else can you do?) but crewmembers' sense of taste changes in free-fall.

People who live in space have said that food is not the same in space. Some astronauts say it tastes bland when they are in orbit. Some do not like their favorite foods. Some love to eat foods they would never eat on Earth. Some crew members say they can't tell any difference. Why? NASA has some clues. But, no one is completely sure.

A Matter of Taste

So even if they liked it in the food lab, that doesn't mean it tastes good to them in free-fall.

(I believe the most-extended missions were STS-057 and STS-113, perhaps it was one of those)


Additional words about the food planning for shuttle missions (all info from Space Shuttle Food System Summary), h/t to GremlinWrangler for the suggestion

Shuttle food stowage was divided into menu food and pantry food.

  • Menu food consisted of a day-by-day, preplanned rotating menu. Here's an example from STS-61C for one crewmember.

enter image description here

  • pantry food

was used to accommodate individual food preferences prior to STS 41-D and also functioned as a contingency food supply in case the flight was unexpectedly extended. During flight, this food supply was used as a pantry providing extra beverages and snacks.

Here's the pantry food menu from the same mission

enter image description here

Just based on this quick look, the pantry food doesn't look less appealing than the menu food.

Also note that they did not eat the shelves bare, a tremendous amount of the food flown was returned uneaten.

  • 28% of the Rehydratable Food Flown in Shuttle Menus was Returned.

  • 59% of the Rehydratable Food Flown in Shuttle Pantries was Returned.

  • 34% of all the Rehydratable Food Flown on Shuttle was Returned.

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    $\begingroup$ Was the shuttle contingency menu an extension of the menu the astronauts picked or a generic set? Experience with military food including a tour of a food lab indicates backup/contingency food is often bland by design, both to make it inoffensive to all and to reduce potential for someone eating it early because they wanted a snack. $\endgroup$ Dec 19 '20 at 22:26
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    $\begingroup$ @GremlinWranger thanks for the comment, expanded the answer to address it. $\endgroup$ Dec 19 '20 at 22:59
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh the linked paper mentions that on some missions the commander tried to make everyone "clean their plates". $\endgroup$ Dec 20 '20 at 0:34
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    $\begingroup$ Rehydratable shrimp cocktail? Yeech, I’ll have the crab juice. $\endgroup$ Dec 21 '20 at 5:52
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    $\begingroup$ @ToddWilcox IMHO it was pretty good. $\endgroup$ Dec 21 '20 at 12:46
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I heard a TV interview with ISS astronaut Alexander Gerst. He said astronauts tests all available food before launch and write down what they like and what not.

But the same food tastes different on ground and in space. The nose gets less of the smell of the food in zero gravity. There is no movement of gases caused by different temperatures as on Earth. The cooks of astronaut food try to compensate by using more spice. But a cook never tests his own food in zero gravity.

So they may use more spice but only so much that it does not taste awful on Earth, but that may be too few in space. An astronaut before his first flight has no experience tasting the same food on Earth and in space. So he may refuse food that he would like in space and select other food which he would dislike in space. Experienced astronauts could tell them that more spices should be used but not how much.

Tasting the same food on Earth and in space is a personal experience not transferable by explanations. There is no zero gravity food test facility on Earth.

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    $\begingroup$ If the fundamental cause of food tasting different in space is a reduced sense of smell, then couldn't they just infect the astronauts with a cold or something and have them taste-test it while their noses are congested? $\endgroup$
    – nick012000
    Dec 21 '20 at 11:14
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    $\begingroup$ @nick012000 that's ridiculous $\endgroup$ Dec 21 '20 at 12:47
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    $\begingroup$ If the reduced sense of smell may be simulated on Earth precisely, a simple nose clip would do. But how much should the nose be closed, fully, partially? Eating with a cliped nose prohibits tasting some components of the food. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Dec 21 '20 at 13:27
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    $\begingroup$ I obviously haven't been to space, but I am on what JSC calls the "sensory panel", i.e., a group of volunteer space food taste testers that participates in blind testing of candidate foods in the Space Food Systems Lab in Building 17. The biggest difference I notice personally is that space food in general is a bit undersalted for my taste, but I know that sodium intake for crew members is relatively restricted. $\endgroup$
    – Tristan
    Dec 21 '20 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble lol, I haven't had any of those. I've had a few stuff that was straight off the shelf at HEB (and presumably stored in some fashion to test how it would degrade). Also a few custom breakfast bar recipes that I would honestly buy. Worst thing I had was a vegetable curry, that tasted like massively overcooked canned carrots and not much else. Everything else has been pretty good. $\endgroup$
    – Tristan
    Dec 22 '20 at 2:59

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