I have always had a love for space, even from a young age I wanted to be an astronaut (as all children do!). I loved the idea of being someone who ventures off into new worlds, who discovers unknown things and tries new methods of sending humankind off into new, undiscovered realms.
In this instructable, I will be mixing my childhood fascination of the stars and space, with my other hobby: cooking. I will show you how to create meal packs similar to that used in NASA missions from common household items.
To make the ration packets you will need a durable and lightweight packaging, I chose to use an old milk carton as it has layers of plastic foil and paper, similar to what NASA uses. Fun fact: the same manufacturer that produces the packaging for the brand Capri Sun also produces packaging for NASA, so if you live in a place where you can get Capri Sun(they don't sell it where I live) then you might want to try this instructable using their packaging.
I am then going to show you how to fill and seal it with whatever type of food you want.
This is Part 1 of a series I plan to make including: drink pouches, better sealing methods & an automatic re-hydrator like they have on the ISS.
Just a note to get started, this is my first instructable and I would love some suggestions in the comments for how I could improve.
Also, if you could vote for me that would be greatly appreciated!
Step 1: The Theory
You may have not thought that space food is that complicated- but there is a surprising amount of thinking that goes into sending plastic packages of dehydrated organic matter into space, after all it is one of the essentials.
There are 5 main requirements that space industries go through when designing a meal pack:
- It must be sterile: This one may seem a bit obvious but is crucial to having a successful meal pack, without it, your food would expire within a matter of weeks or months and could make the astronauts very sick- stopping the mission.
- It has to be small: When sending things into space, size is a big concern because if you are sending a larger volume of items, then you will need a larger storage container- increasing the weight.
- It must be light-weight: This is the most important of the 5, if your item is not lightweight then you are limited on how much of that item you can send into space. During space launches, weight is the overlying enemy- the more weight you have, the more expensive and difficult it is to send your payload its destination.
- It has to be palatable and nutritious: Whilst space food is not the most delicious meal on this planet (see what I did there?), it still has to be consumable with some moderate amount of taste for the astronaut to enjoy. It also has to provide a balanced diet for the astronaut as they spend almost all their day working and expend a lot of energy in doing so.
- It must be able to withstand the harsh conditions of space: Space probes are not generally pressurised and they have to withstand huge amounts of g-forces and vibrations, plus the big temperature differences. The contents of the food packets has to be able to withstand all of these comfortably, generally speaking, oily foods are not the best choice because under high g-forces and lateral vibrations(vibrations side-to-side) will liquify, changing the centre of mass and confusing the guidance system.
We can solve these problems by: 1) Thoroughly cleaning and sanitising everything. 2) Compacting everything. 3) using light-weight foods. 4) Making sure there is a mix of protein, fibre, vitamins, etc, in the meal pack. 5) As I do not have access to the special materials NASA uses, I will just wrap them in aluminium foil to help reflect sunlight, keeping our food cool.
Now we have the theory out of the way, we can get on to the fun part: Actually making the rations!
Step 2: Tools
To make the packet the food will be housed in, you will need:
- ~1 milk carton per ration packet(use as many as you want)
- A pair of scissors
- A hair straightener(an iron or soldering iron will do just as well)
- A wine vacuum preserver(plus rubber caps)- If you have a vacuum sealer, use that as it will work better.
- Baking paper AND Aluminium Foil
- A funnel
- Scotch tape
- A glue stick
- The printout(Right click the image above and "Save as")
- An ultraviolet torch(See step 5)
- A chopstick(in fact, a stick from outside would work just fine)
Step 3: Making the Shape
To make the ration packet, you will need to get the milk cartons and remove the whole lid assembly, to do this just grab the lid whilst still screwed down and rip it off. Then, cut the top section off of the carton, followed by a cut down one of the edges. Afterwards, you will need to remove the bottom section so the rest of the carton can be flattened out. Then, cut out the template(see previous step), and glue it onto the non-shiny side of the milk carton using a glue stick and cut it out.(I made the mistake of putting it on the foil side. Although it is probably fine, eating glue isn't the greatest of ideas.)
Step 4: Making the Packet
Now you have made the shape of the packet, fold the carton, shiny side in, along the dotted line. Unfold the carton and peel off the template. Here comes the fun part, playing with FIRE! No, not really, just using heat to seal the edges of the carton
Then, cut out a piece of baking paper a little longer than the length of the edge on the opposite side of the sticky-outy-bit (yes, that is a technical term) and as about half as wide as your thumb. Re-fold the carton and fold the middle of the baking paper along the length of the folded edge you are about to seal. Now would be a perfect time to heat up your hair straightener, iron or soldering iron.
Carefully hold the baking paper along the length of the folded carton, being sure to keep your fingers out of the way.
If you are using a hair straightener of iron, firmly press the carton against the side of the hair straightener or iron for 2-3 seconds. Set aside to cool.
If you are using a soldering iron, follow the previous steps but instead of holding the carton against the iron, slowly run the iron along the length of the packet.
After you have done this, remove the baking paper and fold a piece of tape over the edges, replace the baking paper and re-heat it. Paying extra attention to the corners. This is to stop the layers of the carton separating.
Repeat for other sides except for the outmost bit of the neck (a.k.a: the sticky outy bit.)
Step 5: Preparing the Food and Packet
Before you fill the packet, you must first check its seal. To do this, gently blow into the neck of the packet until it expands like a balloon. But don't blow too hard otherwise you will rupture the seams. If there is no air escaping then you can proceed to filling it, if it does leak, re-apply the tape and re-seal(see previous step).
Now you have a functioning container you will want some sort of food to fill it with. For mine I chose muesli with dehydrated milk powder, as it is light, durable and tastes decent after re-hydrating. You can choose whatever you want but just remember to make sure it is dehydrated and can be heated in someway or another without being ruined. You also need to work out and remember how much water you need to rehydrate it with, for mine, the dry milk needed 1/4 of a cup of dry powder to 1 cup of water and I worked it out from there.
To make sure the food is sterile so it doesn't expire, you will need to heat it up. Because I chose muesli, putting it in the oven is no issue, just spread it out onto a tray and bake at 120 degrees for about 2 minutes. If you are using food that is heat sensitive you could put the food in a clear plastic bag with the torch shining through the side and shake it around for 1 minute.
To sterilise the packet, I recommend you either: A) Shine an ultraviolet light inside the packet. OR B) If you don't mind a bit of the taste, pour in some cheap vodka and shake it around for 10 seconds and then let it sit for 5 minutes.(Don't forget to pour it out before filling!)
Step 6: Filling the Packet
Now you have finally finished all the preparation, it is time to fill it up!
Using a funnel, fill the container about 3/4 full. Remember to use a chopstick to fit everything into the corners.
Get the rubber cork from the wine preserver and put it into the neck of the container (leaving a about 1/4 to use for sealing) making sure there is a tight seal. You may need to put some tape around the stopper temporarily.
Using the hand pump from the wine preserver kit, draw a vacuum inside of the packet. I won't go into too much detail here as the usage may vary between brands, so just follow the instructions.
Cut another piece of baking paper so that you can wrap it around 2 of the edges of your hair straightener(or hot thing)
Pinch the bottom of the neck tightly(below the cork and the seam you are about to make) and run the hair straightener(or whatever you are using), along the length of the neck. Make sure to do this with the hot side facing the contents. Keep pinching the neck until the seam has re-hardened. You may need to put some tape on and re-heat it to make sure there is a tight seal.
Step 7: Finishing Touches
Voila, you have successfully made a ration packet! You are now set to go to space. (Not really)
Now would be a perfect time to wrap the ration packet in foil, this is to stop it from getting damaged from light.
Remember to label the packet with the contents, amount of water to rehydrate it with, and more importantly, the date you made it. Even though it is supposed to last forever, for legal reasons, I cannot recommend you eat the contents after any lengthy period of time and if you get food poisoning, it is not my fault.
To prepare the food for eating, just pour in the amount of water needed for rehydration, and eat!