Why Don't Astronauts Snore in Space?

Even an astronaut in space, on mission of a lifetime, has to eat and sleep.

May 19, 2009, 10:49 AM

May 19, 2009— -- Sure, the views are great, weightlessness is fun and saving the Hubble Space Telescope is noble work. But even an astronaut in space on the mission of a lifetime has to eat and sleep.

Did you know that astronauts don't snore in space? More on that later.

This group of astronauts didn't go into space without chocolate, pudding, biscotti and coffee. Perhaps by the time the United States returns to the Moon, someone will figure out how to get another essential food into orbit: Pizza.

Mike Massimino, one of the four spacewalkers on this week's mission, said, "It is impossible in space; we don't have it, someone would get a Nobel Prize if they can figure out how to get pizza in space."

The crew of Atlantis had to pick food for breakfast lunch and dinner for 12 days. Cmd. Scott Altman said it isn't easy to figure out what you want to eat that far in advance.

"That was one of the most stressful things about preparing for the flight, was figuring out a menu for 12 days; what do I want to eat? I came up with three days and just repeated it four times," he said.

So he did. He is eating Mexican scrambled eggs and oatmeal for breakfast, with coffee most days, and the shrimp cocktail and barbecue beef brisket for dinner most nights, with a responsible serving of fruits and veggies on most days.

Altman started the two years of training for the mission by telling his crew he would ban any fish on the mission.

Why fish? The garbage container on space shuttles is below the floor on the mid-deck, and fish, well, smells after awhile. Altman did relent and allow spacewalker John Grunsfeld to add salmon to his menu, as long as he ate it all.

Grunsfeld says the must-have menu for any space shuttle flight is candy-coated peanuts (aka M&M's).

"The first thing to know about space food, it is the ambiance, it is the environment, it is not the food," he said. "These candies come in a piece of plastic, we cut them open, and suddenly everyone starts behaving like fish in a fish tank. That is fun food."

Planning a Zero-Gravity Menu

Other foods, said Grunsfeld, have medicinal value in space.

"Freeze-dried shrimp are inherently like cardboard," he said. "It is a little like a bit of some kind of fibrous material shaped like a shrimp. However the secret lies in the sauce, it is the horseradish. One of the things that happens in space, is that there is a fluid shift. You get a lot of extra pressure and it fills your sinuses, and the horseradish is a miracle worker for cleaning that out."

Megan McArthur, who is the chief robotics officer on this mission, said she doesn't eat fish and didn't mind Altman's ban on it.

"If he said no chocolate, I might look for a different flight, and I wouldn't be happy without a jar of peanut butter," she said.

McArthur is getting hot chocolate for breakfast, chocolate pudding cake for dinner and candy-coated peanuts for snacks. She did balance her menus out with vegetable soup, fiesta chicken meatloaf and dried pears.

When a space shuttle crew gets assigned to a mission, they sit down with the staff of the Johnson Space Center food lab and choose what they want to eat, grading everything from one to 10.

Michelle Pittman of the food lab said they have 300 different foods and beverages for astronauts to choose from.

Even astronauts aren't above playing tricks in orbit. Altman remembers an early mission when his commander sabotaged his menu.

"I had a day with all tomato eggplant surprise, which is my least favorite dish on the whole thing, for breakfast lunch and dinner," he said.

His pilot on this mission, Greg Johnson, took a look at his menus for the flight and decided he had loaded up with too much cauliflower and broccoli and didn't have enough pudding.

"Every night I have pudding at night on Earth," he said. "My wife looked at my menu and she discovered you have NO pudding, so I upped my pudding to one a day."

Now he has a nice variety of chocolate, butterscotch and vanilla.

And, as for snoring ...

The accommodations are cramped on a space shuttle, seven people sleeping in a space the size of a small bedroom.

Really? No Snoring in Space?

There isn't much privacy or personal space. McArthur, the only woman on this mission, has spent two years training with the six guys assigned to this flight.

Massimino snores, he admitted. But he made a solemn vow to McArthur.

"They promised me there would be no snoring on this flight," she told ABC News before she launched last week.

That's because there is less airway obstruction in space, flight surgeon Dr. J.D. Polk said.

"Earthly snoring occurs when gravity pulls the tongue and soft tissues in the rear of your mouth backward," he said. "If your airway is partially obstructed you get these tissues flapping. In microgravity, the tongue and the jaw do not fall back in the throat, so there is less airway obstruction in space."

So if you want a good night's sleep and your partner snores, you can get it in orbit. That is, if you can tear yourself away from the view.

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