Eat like an Apollo 11 astronaut at Houston’s airport

on Jun23
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Modern day retro dishes being served this month at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

Many travelers can find comfort in the familiar tastes of home. In this way, the astronauts on the Apollo 11 mission may be no different than the rest of us. 

To mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landing and the first steps taken by humans on the moon on July 20, there will be special menus at two restaurants at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) next month.

Houston aka Space City is just one city hosting special events to mark the milestone, and that includes its airport. In United Airlines’ Terminal C, gate lounges will display digital photographs from the Apollo 11 mission. In Terminals C and E, the iPads used to order food will feature a space-themed trivia game and two OTG-operated restaurants will serve food and cocktails inspired by the meals prepared for the Apollo 11 astronauts.

What did the astronauts eat?

Between liftoff and touchdown back on earth, astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins were running experiments, taking pictures, gathering samples and making history.

They also took time to eat.

“More than 70 items comprise the food selection list of freeze-dried rehydratable, wet-pack and spoon-bowl foods,” NASA explained in the 250-page typewritten press kit for the Apollo 11 Lunar Landing Mission on July 6, 1969.

The press kit lists the day-by-day, meal-by-meal menu for each crewman and explains how some of the meals were prepared.

“After water has been injected into a food bag, it is kneaded for about three minutes. The bag neck is then cut off and the food squeezed into the crewman ‘s mouth.”

Freeze-dried ice-cream isn’t on the list, but powdered fruit-drinks (not Tang; NASA doesn’t use brand names), along with bacon cubes, shrimp cocktail, beef stew, frankfurters, fruit cocktail, tuna salad and many other familiar foods are.

Familiar foods, or even just fresh foods, are often hugely satisfying in space for the memories they trigger and warm feelings they generate, ” said Jennifer Levasseur, museum curator at the department of space history at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, which has 13 packets of food the Apollo 11 astronauts didn’t eat.

Apollo 11 food packages

Source: Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum

Like modern day travelers, food is one of the few things astronauts can control during a journey far from home.

“Food must have had a very important role on Apollo 11 because they were doing things that had never been done before,” said Vickie Kloeris, NASA food scientist emeritus.

Dine like an astronaut

Many of the foods found on those original Apollo 11 menus are featured during July on a special menu at OTG’s Ember Tavern and Tumblewood Grill in United Airlines’ Terminal C and E at IAH.

To ensure authenticity, the culinary team at airport concessions company OTG visited NASA’s Space Food Systems Laboratory in Houston to learn about and taste food prepared by NASA’s food scientists.

“We wanted to understand what food meant to astronauts having that experience and what it means now,” said Dan O’Donnell, OTG’s head of culinary. “We wanted to know the science and philosophy behind space food; where they were then and where it is now.”

The biggest takeaway was that the astronauts could choose a lot of the foods they wanted to eat. “It wasn’t just about sustenance. Much of it was food that reminded the astronauts of home, like beef and potatoes, tuna salad and sugar cookies. Our menu is a play on those items,” O’Donnell said. 

Travelers who order from the Apollo 11-inspired IAH menu won’t be served meals that need to be reconstituted and squeezed into their mouths from bags. Nor will they find 1969 prices.

Instead they’ll find modern-day versions of many menu items from the Apollo 11 mission.

“For instance, our take on the tuna salad uses seared ahi instead of regular tuna, but we prepared it in the same way with walnuts, grapes, celery, apple and some fresh yogurt,” said O’Donnell. “The beef and potatoes is made with grilled ribeye, scalloped potatoes and parsley pesto.”

Apollo 11 food packages

Source: Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum

Although there was no alcohol on Apollo 11, there are cocktails on the IAH Apollo 11 anniversary menu.

“The original menus said, ‘orange drink,’ ‘grapefruit drink’ or ‘citrus drink.’ They were very flavor focused and on the sweeter side because people taste things differently in space,” said Allison Kafalas, OTG beverage director. “I took those flavors and translated them to cocktails that are a bit more relevant and modern for today’s eater, including a peach bellini, a martini using an orange vodka from Texas and a pineapple margarita.”

Modern day retro dishes being served this month at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

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