Food on the International Space Station Might Get More Boring

After a Russian cargo capsule failed to rendezvous with the ISS, astronauts' meals might be blander than usual

Progress 47, a Russian spacecraft similar to one that malfunctioned, is shown before its April 25, 2015, departure from the International Space Station.

Progress 47, a Russian spacecraft similar to one that malfunctioned, is shown before its April 25, 2015, departure from the International Space Station.


Anyone worried about the nutritional health of the six astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) can rest easy. Although a Russian capsule carrying food and water to the ISS malfunctioned on Tuesday, failing to deliver its cargo, NASA said the crew has adequate food to last into the summer. 

Mission controllers in Russia lost contact with the Progress 59 capsule shortly after its launch. The capsule—carrying more than 6,000 pounds of food, water, oxygen, and fuel—was supposed to dock about six hours after launch but began to spin out of control shortly after it reached space. Russian flight controllers have been unable to rein in the craft, and video from the Progress showed it rotating wildly. According to the U.S. Air Force, 44 pieces of debris near the craft suggest a breakup of some type. The Progress is expected to enter the earth's atmosphere and burn up between May 5 and 7. 

This is the second time in recent months that the ISS crew has missed a scheduled supply delivery. In October, an Orbital Sciences commercial rocket exploded shortly after launch from Virginia. That mission carried nearly 4,900 pounds of cargo, including 1,360 pounds of food.

NASA emphasized today that the ISS commissary contains adequate reserves to last a few more months. “Both the Russian and [U.S.] segments of the station continue to operate normally and are adequately supplied well beyond the next planned resupply flight,” spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz said. The next ISS resupply mission is scheduled for mid-June aboard a SpaceX Dragon rocket, with about 5,000 pounds of supplies. SpaceX flew the most recent ISS resupply mission, on April 14, which included more than 1,100 pounds of food and other provisions for the crew. Coffee was among the vital goods the Dragon capsule delivered, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti reported on her Twitter account, spoofing a 1995 episode of Star Trek Voyager.

Still, the loss of this week's cargo mission could mean that some foodstuffs on the ISS will run low, and menus could become drab. Food—especially fresh fruit and vegetables—is a big deal for ISS crew members, who must exercise for several hours each day and subsist primarily on rations that can be stored in bags for long periods, then rehydrated and heated. (The ISS has no refrigeration, and salt and pepper must be in liquid form.) “We have plenty of fruit,” Cristoforetti said in a video she made for the ESA on how to snack healthily. “Most of the time it’s not fresh fruit, unfortunately.”

ISS commander Terry Virts recently posted a photo on his Twitter account to show his appreciation of fresh baby carrot sticks.

The crew also gets to stock a small portion of what Cristoforetti called “bonus food,” which are items they select for themselves. Her choices? Quinoa salad with mackerel, guacamole, almonds, and olive oil. Which, after Tuesday's mishap, might very well be in short supply.

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