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Space Food

At-a-glance
Drop-InAge 8–1310–15 Participants1–2 Facilitators1–1.5hrCraft Materials

Overview

Welcome to PLIX Space Food! Explore and create new inventions, experiences, and flavors to enhance the future of dining in outer space! Spaceflight is an adventure, but being so far away comes with its challenges. Astronauts have shared that familiar foods (ones they eat on Earth) can be a huge source of comfort in space. These comforts will play an even more significant role as long-duration space travel and future life in space habitats come increasingly within reach. How can we meet the nutritional, performance-related, and emotional needs of astronauts, as well as future space travelers, through food?

Activity at a Glance

This activity can operate as either a structured workshop or a drop-in activity. In both formats, patrons may explore four realms of design using low-cost craft and building materials. The design prompts are contextualized using the Considerations for Dining in Space handout, which describes why it can be challenging to prepare and eat meals on the International Space Station. These considerations can be used to frame any of the four design prompts, so you can run this activity multiple different times using the same materials or with the same group of patrons!

  • Age Range: 8-13 years old
  • Group Size: 10-15 participants
  • Number of Facilitators: 1-2
  • Activity Length: 1 - 1.5 hours for a structured workshop; or drop-in
  • Cost: $5 - $7, per participant (note that this activity uses many craft or recycled materials that many librarians may already have on-hand!)
  • Prep. time: 1-1.5 hours to fold zines, make examples, and set up supplies
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Share the love: Tell us how you use this activity guide on the PLIX Forum or via our PLIX Remix report form. Remember, our guide is just a jumping off point — feel free change or create new design elements to suit your local community!

Supply Kit

Below you'll find some materials that we've found work well for this activity, but it's not necessary to have them all!

zines—cut & folded Space Food (one sheet per participant)
handouts—cut in half Considerations for Dining in Space printouts (one half sheet per participant)
cardboard
aluminum foil
metallic tape or duct tape
play dough / modeling clay
eating / serving utensils (ones that can be modified: plastic or bamboo)

Zine

The Space Food zine provides an overview about how astronauts transport, prepare, and eat food in outer space. It introduces some of the ways that space environments make mealtimes on the ISS (International Space Station) very different than they are here on Earth. Finally, it highlights a few areas of current research and development for space food, like sustainability, utensil design, and growing fresh food in outer space!

Download here →

PLIX-Space-Food-Zine_v1.00.pdf1796.3KB

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A note about zines: Our PLIX zines are designed to be supplementary resources for patrons and librarians to refer to during workshops. They're a quick and easy way for people to learn some fundamentals. You can print them on 8.5x11" paper, and they're easy to assemble. Here’s a resource that shows you step-by-step how to cut and fold them after printing!

Considerations for Dining in Space Handout

The Considerations for Dining in Space handout outlines the environmental factors that make it difficult to work prepare and eat familiar foods from Earth. We encourage that patrons use these to help frame the way they complete their prototype designs!

Download here →

PLIX-Space-Food_Considerations-for-dining-in-space_v0.01.pdf142.8KB

Facilitation

Workshop Prompts

The prompts for this activity encourage patrons to consider ways to design the future of preparing meals, dining rituals, and sensory experiences for astronauts. Contextualized within the design considerations, and using the materials to prototype, center a workshop around one or more of the following prompts:

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Adapt your favorite recipe or cooking ritual to a zero-gravity environment — Write down the recipe (including ingredients, and general steps for preparation: as much of it as you can remember), thinking about which components will need to be altered for the space environment. Create a version of that recipe that is modified for preparation by astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
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Design a kitchen tool or appliance that makes it easier for astronauts to cook or dine on the ISS — You can also make packaging for it and give it a name. Think of how you would market or sell this product: write a script for a commercial for advertising your newly designed kitchenware.
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Film an episode of a cooking show for astronauts — Come up with recipes that you can teach astronauts that use new techniques or methods for preparing recipes currently unavailable on the ISS.
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For older learners (middle and high school): Speculate about what inventions or processes would help achieve a sustainable, closed-loop food system onboard the ISS (perhaps ones that reduce waste, reuse water, or leverage recyclable/recycled materials). Sketch tools or recycling systems that allow astronauts to turn food waste into useful materials!

A utensil set that easily attaches to spacesuits in zero-gravity environments and is self-cleaning to reduce the use of water onboard the ISS.
A utensil set that easily attaches to spacesuits in zero-gravity environments and is self-cleaning to reduce the use of water onboard the ISS.
Space chopsticks—for easy food-grabbing when objects float away in zero-gravity!
Space chopsticks—for easy food-grabbing when objects float away in zero-gravity!
A scent-creator that produces earthly scents (the smell of grass, rain, and home baked goods) for astronauts!
A scent-creator that produces earthly scents (the smell of grass, rain, and home baked goods) for astronauts!

A device that uses the cold temperatures of space to create pastry dough!
A device that uses the cold temperatures of space to create pastry dough!

Making Example Projects

When preparing to facilitate a creative learning activity, we always recommend populating your space with diverse example projects. A good example project is thoughtfully designed to inspire your patrons, spark their curiosity, and be easy enough to understand to support them in getting started with the activity.

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Learn more about the art of the example in our PLIX Guide to Making Activity Examples.

Facilitation Tips

By design, this activity invites learners to creatively speculate the future of dining and well-being in outer-space environments. Since there are many ways to explore space food, patrons may need some guidance in how or where to get started. When facilitating this activity, we encourage you to support a tinkering mindset, and consider the following to culture a creative learning environment:

Facilitation Techniques to try with Space Food →

🦃 Feast on a universe of traditions when you frame the activity

If there’s an upcoming food-related holiday (or any holiday that involves patrons preparing one of their favorite meals), ask participants to design a way that astronauts could celebrate. Or, ask participants to think about their own family’s food traditions and how to transport these to a space context. Have a wide variety of materials to encourage divergent thinking. Provide inspiring images of astronauts eating in space, and liquids on the loose.

🍎 Dish out a hot menu of diverse example projects and creative juices will flow

We’ve provided some examples of projects that indicate different directions the project can be taken. The examples outlined connect to a few major themes you might choose to explore with your patrons that engage important questions about life in outerspace. Utensil design is a great way to get the creative juices flowing, since you can think about small adaptations that you can make to utensils we use every day (forks; spoons; chopsticks; spatulas; whisks). You can also explore tools to augment astronaut well-being, like the scent-creator we showed, which doesn't necessarily involve food, but rather the design of environments or atmospheres which remind astronauts of home.

🍭 Serve snacks for hacking

If running an in-person workshop, bring along some snacks that might inspire ways that patrons are thinking about flavors, packaging, and food preparation. For example, in workshops we've run, we've brought along pop rocks, moon cheese, powdered drink mix, astronaut ice cream (which isn't actually eaten by astronauts!), hot sauce, etc. Freeze dried snacks work great, since they illustrate the types of foods that astronauts are already eating, but also bring some food items that don't translate so easily (something fermented, like miso or kombucha, or something that produces a lot of crumbs, like potato chips!).

👅 Do some taste tests along the way

The program could be divided into different meal courses, when check-ins and share-outs could happen. For example, a short warm-up as an appetizer, and then you as the maitre d’ of the space food restaurant can check in with each of the chefs / food scientists on what they've come up with so far. Some clarifying questions you could ask include: how would this be cooked, if at all? What is something that is causing you trouble? What would you like us to notice about your design / recipe?

👯 Table for two? Peers on a shared mission

Pair up your participants so they can share what they are working on. Alternatively, arrange the room as a Space Fare Fair where those who are tackling similar challenges can find one another, designating different tables / areas as “packaging innovation”, “taste lab”, “table-less tools”, etc.

🚀 Take your time and let go

NASA astronauts can tell you that zero gravity can take getting used to. Creative learning is a new way to facilitate, and it’ll take some time to get your space legs without the pull of a structured, step-by-step workshop to moor your feet.

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Be sure to also check out our PLIX Facilitation Techniques Guide for additional techniques from the PLIX team to help you cultivate your own creative learning facilitation practice.

Space Food in Action

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Check out this thread on the PLIX forum for examples exploring kitchen tool design for use aboard the ISS, with contributions from the PLIX community!

What We ❤️ About This activity

  • Offers a non-technical entry point for engaging with outer space. By emphasizing the social and cultural aspects of spaceflight, this activity invites learners of all backgrounds to get started with design for outer space environments.
  • Encourages collaboration and co-design. Patrons are encouraged to work together to think through designs, communicate ideas, and share their inventions.
  • Supports multi-cultural dialogue. Through the sharing of recipes and culinary traditions, this activity shines a spotlight on the lived experience of patrons.
  • No new materials required. The space food workshop prompts can be easily run with on-hand or leftover craft materials and/or recyclables.

About PLIX Space Food

This activity was developed in collaboration with Maggie Coblentz, an industrial designer and space food researcher who works with the MIT Media Lab Space Exploration Initiative.

Other ways to engage with the PLIX Space Food program:

The Public Library Innovation Exchange (PLIX) is a project of the MIT Media Lab Digital Learning & Collaboration Studio. Except where otherwise noted, all materials on this site are licensed under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license. Accessibility.