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December 12, 2023

Christmas Dinner on the Apollo VIII as It Headed to the Moon, 1968

On Christmas Eve, 1968, during the Apollo 8 mission, the astronauts opened their meal packages to discover thermo-stabilized turkey with gravy and cranberry sauce that they could eat with a spoon. This meal did not have to be re-hydrated.

This type of meal package was developed for the Apollo program, the third US crewed spaceflight program (1968-1972). This dinner meal was flown on the Apollo 8 mission, which was the first crewed spacecraft to orbit the Moon. Apollo 8 was launched December 21 1968 and returned to Earth on December 28. The crew were: Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James Lovell and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders. 

Because of the unique environment of space, food for spaceflight has to satisfy a number of criteria in order to fulfill its function as nutrition for astronauts. Apollo space food provided the complete nutritional requirements for each astronaut for up to two weeks in space, including the replacement of those minerals and vitamins lost from the body under microgravity conditions. The food was designed to be lightweight and compact, stored without refrigeration, able to be safely handled and consumed under weightless conditions, able to withstand severe thermal and mechanical stresses. It also had to be low residue, to reduce the astronauts' bowel movements, as waste disposal was a problem on early space flights.
While similar to the food used on earlier Gemini spaceflight, Apollo food was further improved as a result of additional research and refinements in the food processing techniques. The availability of hot and cold water in the Apollo Command Module enabled NASA food technicians to expand the range of bite-size and rehydrateable foods available to the astronauts and the controlled water temperature for meal rehydration greatly improved the palatability of Apollo food over that used on Gemini flights. The Apollo 8 flight saw the introduction of the ‘wetpack’, a thermally stabilized meal item that was in its natural form, with full moisture content, and eaten with a spoon. 

Space food is designed to provide sustenance to astronauts in an environment where they could not naturally find food. It is an example of the human capacity to develop foodstuffs to enable people to occupy diverse and often harsh environments. This meal package is part of a collection of space food meal packages that show the development of space food production and storage techniques in the US and Soviet space programs. 

The Apollo 8 mission was significant not only because it was the first time that human beings had orbited the Moon, but also because Apollo 8 images of the Earth rising over the Moon and sitting isolated in space became important in encouraging the growth of environmental awareness. Seeing the entire Earth from the vantage point of space for the first time, through the images from Apollo 8 and later Apollo missions, gave rise to the environmentally important concept of “Spaceship Earth” and helped foster the environmental consciousness and the Green movement. Two Apollo missions took place in Earth orbit, the rest involved journeys to the Moon, lasting up to 12 days.


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