As commercial aerospace companies advance toward manned spaceflight, they must overcome many hurdles – not only technical, but also human. One of the greatest human challenges they face is food. Throughout the history of human spaceflight, astronauts have primarily eaten food developed by government space agencies. Now, with manned commercial flights on the horizon, astronauts will be provided with an entirely new diet – one comprised of commercially available, ready-to-eat food. Yet will this diet keep astronauts nourished, satisfied with their diet, and both psychologically and physically healthy? The purpose of this parallel crossover design study was to evaluate (a) nutrient intake, (b) food satisfaction, (c) psychological health, and (d) physical health in commercial aerospace employees (N = 7) as they ate a diet of commercial, ready-to-eat food for four days, as compared to eating as normal for four days.
Findings from this study showed that the ready-to-eat diet did not lead to any significant changes in caloric intake, psychological health, or physical health, aside from weight loss. It is not clear whether this weight loss was due to the loss of body fat, muscle, or water. When eating the ready-to-eat food, participants reported being slightly less satisfied with the variety, reported lower cravings for sweets, and reported the food was slightly less hedonically rewarding. In post-study interviews, participants reported they wanted to see more meats, fruits, vegetables, and desserts added to the ready-to-eat diet, so as to provide more meal-like structure. Overall, these findings show the diet could be used in commercial spaceflight after making simple changes. The diet could also be used by individuals in remote areas on Earth and to provide food assistance to individuals in disaster or emergency situations. Due to the increasing popularity of ready-to-eat food around the world, these findings also provide knowledge about the potential consequences of modern eating trends.