A Short History of Pizza In Outer Space

Friday, March 15th, 2019
astronaut floats in outer space in front of earth

Pizza is the perfect food. You can take it everywhere, just pick up a slice and walk. No muss, no fuss. That’s part of its appeal, after all.

But can you have pizza in outer space?

If you were an astronaut and your favorite food is pizza, chances are that a cheesy pizza pie (or all the ingredients you need to make one!) would definitely be on your list of things to take to space. Think about it, you could easily eat it with one hand while floating through zero gravity, presumably. In theory, why wouldn’t you have pizza while in outer space?

…….but what if it wasn’t allowed?

Until recently, pizza was not an approved food by NASA! Why in the world would pizza not be possible in space?

But, before we explain, take a moment to imagine a scenario where an astronaut is given the unpleasant news that there will be “No Pizza In Space”.

Bad News: No Pizza In Space

SCENE

Astronaut zips up suitcase and pats it with a satisfied expression. Walks towards STAGE LEFT and picks up a notepad and paper. He scrutinizes the list, his lips moving soundlessly as he makes sure everything is there.

Astronaut: (mutters) ….Freeze dried peas, dehydrated broccoli….(mutters)…yes, yes, oh! And dried fruit…hmmm, what else?(Mumbles absentmindedly) Oooooh!! (scribbles excitedly on his notepad)

NASA stands by the dresser with his hands behind his back, waiting for the Astronaut to hand him the list. Dressed in a tweed and probably an adjunct professor at the nearby university, NASA is calm and collected. But he can be seen stealing glances at his watch, he has a very tight schedule to keep and the Astronaut cannot be late for his date with space.

Astronaut: Nearly done! I’m just making sure I’ve requested everything I need to make pizza. I can’t wait to have my favorite food while I’m in outer space! I’ll be in heaven! Yes, I must have pizza up there. Can’t do without it. Nope. No sir. I’m putting down the ingredients right now. Pepperoni or sau-(is cut off by NASA’s firm and scholarly voice)

NASA: Yeah, no. Not going to happen.

Astronaut: 😲

END SCENE

The Problem With Pizza in Outer Space

Why, exactly would NASA have a problem with their astronauts having pizza in outer space? The answer lies not within any prejudices held by NASA against pizza, but rather the technical issues and impossible logistics that making pizza posed!

An excerpt from an informational article titled No Pizza In Space, published in 2004 by NASA, clearly illustrates the problems with food in space:

“Water is added to their dry food at the rehydration station. A special oven warms their food to 180 degrees Fahrenheit (82 degrees Celsius). This does not cook the food, only warms it. There is not a refrigerator on the Space Shuttle. Food is stored at room temperature. There is a very small chiller on board. There isn’t room for much.”

If you think about it, pizza would definitely be a problematic food to have in space. Think about the cheese shreds, floating everywhere. Getting stuck in gear shifts and machinery. Then there’s the fact that the pizza dough would never be able to cook! It’s not enough to just warm the ingredients for pizza, it has to be cooked in order to attain the status of “perfect food”, and a space shuttle doesn’t quite allow for that!

Or does it?

A Clever Team of Pizza-Loving Astronauts 

Astronauts are smart folks.

Smart enough to figure out how to make sure they can have their favorite food while floating in orbit, hundreds of thousands of miles away from their home planet.

In 2017, the members of Expedition 53 teamed up to prepare their favorite food in anticipation of a “movie night”. What was this favorite food? Pizza.

The astronauts had put their heads together and devised an innovative, slightly modified recipe for pizza that put to the test on camera, live for the world to see!

What did they do differently?

Exactly the right things. See, they used ingredients that would stick to the pizza dough itself. And the team members handled the ingredients as a group, so that not a single stray cheese shred escaped into space!

But that’s not the only innovative approach to finally having pizza in outer space!

If you’re aware of the neat things that 3D printers can create, it really shouldn’t surprise you to learn that NASA was one of the first ones to fund a prototype! And the prototype in question was installed on a space shuttle in 2013 in order to create food while the shuttle and its astronauts were on long-duration missions! And one of the very first foods created by this printer was–you guessed it–pizza!

The design for the pizza meant it was built in layers. First the dough was printed, then the tomato sauce (which was really powder and oil), and then the protein-based replacement for the traditional toppings. It may not have been gourmet, but for the astronauts, it was their perfect food: pizza in outer space.