Top 10 Worst Space Food

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What is that?! Cosmonaut Fyodor N. Yurchikhin plays with some brown gelatinous goo on a cracker.
DCL

Now we know what the ideal menu would look like on the International Space Station (ISS), what's the nastiest packets of goop that would be left at the back of the orbital pantry?

MORE: What happened when a Gemini astronaut decided to pack a home-made corned beef sandwich?

If anyone would know which diabolical items of food to leave on Earth, it's Vickie Kloeris — NASA's Johnson Space Center space food manager who has been whipping up zero-gravity recipes for 23 years.

Below are her most notorious space menu picks, some so bad that they never flew at all:

10. Freeze-Dried Ice Cream

Sold in space museum gift shops across the United States as "space ice cream" or "astronaut ice cream," this melt-in-your-mouth treat might seem like a staple item on orbit. But don't be tricked! Apollo 7 in 1968 was the first and last time freeze-dried ice cream ever left Earth. Why? Kloeris said that while kids may love it, "its not an adult thing, and nothing like real ice cream. It's really just a hard hard cotton candy that's extremely crumbly."

9. Graham Crackers

Joining the crumbly crowd are graham crackers. Their signature taste and texture survive in micro gravity, but the crumbs can be disastrous. "Air aboard spacecraft is recycled, and even though there are filters, crumbs lead to air pollution," Kloeris said. "It gets in your eyes and you breathe it in." Kloeris noted that space food chefs used to file down the edges of graham cracker "planks," but the commercial food industry eventually came up with a better solution without even knowing it: bite-size Teddy Grahams.

8. Chips

Who doesn't love a mouth-watering potato chip? Kloeris said she pleads with astronauts not to sneak their favorite crispy chips into space, but many insist on putting tubes of Pringles into their "bonus" container. "When they get back, they always tell me: 'Vickie, we should have listened to you,'" she said. Like space ice cream and graham crackers, chips are simply too messy to eat without dirtying the air.

7. Sliced Bread

In space, the best thing since sliced bread isn't sliced bread. This yeasty staple quickly dries out and turns into a mummified, crumb-generating nightmare, so it was only flown on shorter missions. What's a spaceflyer to do with their favorite sandwich filling? Since Mexican payload specialist Rodolfo Neri Vela flew aboard the space shuttle in 1985, everyone has been reaching for tortillas.

6. Tube & Cube Foods

Early space travel may have been glorious, but the astronaut menus definitely weren't. Throughout the Mercury, Gemini, and early Apollo missions, pureed food in a tube was one of the few options. "It was essentially baby food," Kloeris said. If mushy applesauce and carrots didn't satisfy, plenty of liquefied chicken, ham, beef and tuna was available. Aside from tube foods were similarly unappetizing cube foods. "They pressed things like cereal, cookies, and graham crackers into half-inch-by-half-inch cubes and coated them with starch," Kloeris said. "You'd just pop them in your mouth."

5. Pizza

When you get down to it, space pizza is a poor substitute for the real deal. "It simply doesn't meet anyone's expectations," Kloeris said. "You can't get a crispy crust. It's always soggy or chewy." In fact, NASA has never flown pizza into space for this reason — only the Russians on board the Mir space station ever did, and from none other than Pizza Hut. "It certainly hasn't been in demand since then, if that tells you anything" Kloeris said.

4. Cheesecake

Space food must survive an obstacle course of preparation, sometimes a process called "retorting" — which is a fancy word for canning food in a plastic pouch under heat and pressure. Kloeris' team tried for months to perfect a cheesecake recipe that would survive retorting, but all concoctions failed. "Dairy products do not hold up well at all during retort," Kloeris said. "Cheesecake turns brown and gets extremely gummy." So much for a slice of heaven in space.

3. Carbonated Beverages

Cans of Coca-Cola and Pepsi flew in space during the 1980s, but astronauts quickly learned about "wet" burps; without gravity to keep your food and drink down, a little gas in your tummy can turn it into a squirt gun. "Carbonation is definitely something you don't want in your on-orbit diet," Kloeris said. Besides, short of taking a stroll in the cold vacuum of space, there's no refrigerator on board any spaceship — and who likes a warm can of cola?

2. Fish Vera Cruz

Before shelf-stable fish products like pouched salmon and tuna recently stormed gorcery stores, fish in space was a stinky experiment. The most famous dish was "Fish Vera Cruz," which was created to address astronaut complaints about fishy odors. Turns out the tomato-based sauce intended to mask the odor actually amplified it. "We flew it in the early (space) station program during Expedition 5, which Peggy Whitson was on," Kloeris said. "The Russians loved it, but Peggy asked everyone not to eat it because, to her, the smell was nauseating." When Peggy returned to Earth, the last of the Fish Vera Cruz was gobbled up into spaceflight history.

1. Brussels Sprouts

Children and future astronauts, have hope: If there's one food that's not worth the trouble of flying into space, it's Brussels sprouts. "To be perfectly honest, I don't think we'll ever fly them," Kloeris said. "We try to pick products that have high demand, and Brussels sprouts aren't the most popular vegetable in the world."

Adapted from an article posted on Discovery Space in 2008.

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