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Japanese Cuisine Sustains
Space Development

Living is eating, whether on Earth or in outer space. Mealtimes provide a valuable setting for communication, especially on the International Space Station (ISS), where astronauts of different nationalities share time and space together. JAXA's SANO Satoshi, Associate Senior Researcher, and SUNAGA Aya, Associate Administrator, make dedicated efforts day after day to deliver delicious Japanese cuisine to astronauts so that they can savor the familiar dishes served at home. The following is what the two staff members discussed about Japanese Space Food.

Safe space food supports meals on Earth

—Japanese astronauts NOGUCHI Soichi and HOSHIDE Akihiko will be staying on the ISS as their long-term mission. Are you preparing the space food they need to take with them?

Sunaga: Yes, we are. Other than preparing the space food to pack, our Astronaut Medical Operations Group is also tasked to manage the astronauts' clothing and other daily necessities such as toothbrushes, so we are very busy at the moment.

—Let me ask you a basic question. What is the concept of space food and the criteria that need to be met?

Sunaga: Space food is food developed and manufactured for astronauts to consume safely and with peace of mind while they are in outer space. Currently, space food items consumed on the ISS need to fulfill certain criteria—they must contain the nutrition required to keep astronauts healthy; the expiration date must be at least 18 months at room temperature; liquid or powder should not scatter even in a microgravity environment in space; and they must be manufactured under strict food safety management to prevent food poisoning at all costs.
Astronaut YUI Kimiya eating ramen noodles. Ramen noodles are made extra viscous to prevent them from scattering. ©JAXA/NASA
Sano: Speaking of food safety management, are you familiar with the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point, or HACCP? In the 1960s when the Apollo Program was underway, NASA and other US government agencies including the US Army and US food manufacturers developed the concept to secure safety for space food. The HACCP concept is incorporated in the space food produced today.

—What specifically is HACCP?

Sano: To ensure food safety, food needs to be handled hygienically at every stage of the entire production process, from the procurement of raw materials to the shipment of finished products. HACCP is a food hygiene management method for analyzing and projecting in advance the risks of microbial and foreign matter contamination at each production stage and conducting monitoring and recording to prevent food damage. Today, HACCP is widely adopted by the Japanese food industry, and is one example of a spin-off of a space program.

—I believe the space food provided by NASA and Russia is referred to as the Standard Menu.

Sunaga: Astronauts during a long-term mission mainly eat the Standard Menu, but countries where the astronauts are from have also been developing their own space food. In Japan, JAXA, with cooperation from food manufacturers and organizations, administers a certification system to certify food products that are typically served at Japanese homes as Japanese Space Food. Japanese astronauts can bring such food to the ISS as Bonus Food.

—I understand that JAXA's Japanese Space Food Team invites food manufacturers and organizations to propose candidates for Japanese Space Food.

Sunaga: Yes. For food candidates to be certified as Japanese Space Food, they need to fulfill strict standards including the basic criteria of space food that I mentioned earlier, and the Certification Standards of Japanese Space Foods set by JAXA. For this, they need to pass the document-based screening, 18-month preservation test, various food examinations, and plant inspections by experts. From the day of application, it takes at least two years before food candidates can be certified as Japanese Space Food.
Logo marks of certified Japanese Space Food (left: certified food, right: approved food for ISS)

—Is it challenging for food manufacturers to wait for as long as two years?

Sunaga: Applicant manufacturers all say two years is a long time to wait. It is understandable for manufacturers to doubt whether the significance and benefits of acquiring a certification outweigh the development costs and two-year waiting time. Meanwhile, for JAXA, Japanese Space Food would not be viable without the support of food manufacturers. It is therefore important to create an inviting environment for manufacturers to take on the challenge. Food manufacturers try for certification by overcoming various hurdles, believing that they can achieve growth by advancing into and contributing to the space market. By acquiring a certification, they can also publicly demonstrate the quality of their products. Not only will this improve their corporate image, but also help trigger the development of new technologies that will sustain Japan's space development.
Sano: Japanese food is known to be highly nutritious and delicious and is therefore popular outside Japan. Japanese manufacturers take pride in their advanced food processing technology, and are hoping that their products will become popular as space food and sustain the culinary enjoyment of astronauts on the ISS.

—Can non-Japanese astronauts also eat Japanese Space Food?

Sano: On the ISS, astronauts bring space food from their own country and swap food with other astronauts, which also helps promote communication. In fact, a Japanese astronaut who worked aboard the ISS told us that he eagerly offered Japanese Space Food to his colleagues because it also helped him introduce Japanese culture to them.
Astronaut NOGUCHI Soichi eating meals with astronauts around the world ©JAXA/NASA
Sunaga: We would like to supply Japanese Space Food to non-Japanese astronauts if they request it. I believe this will help Japan contribute to other countries. Certified Japanese Space Food manufacturers share this aspiration. Currently, a Japanese astronaut travels to the ISS once every 12 to 18 months, so Japanese Space Food is only purchased at this frequency. If we can also supply Japanese Space Food to NASA and Russian astronauts, for example, manufacturers will be able to consider the production of Japanese Space Food as a business, which will prompt the private sector to get involved.

—In view of such challenge, could you share your thoughts on the prospect and future of Japanese Space Food?

Sano: JAXA has announced its participation in the manned lunar orbiting station and the international space exploration project including the human lunar surface exploration, with an eye toward Mars. This means that humans will need to take longer journeys than to the ISS. When it comes to exploring Mars, it will take about three years just to make a round-trip, and food will also be needed while staying on the moon or Mars. So, we will need to consider taking large quantities of space food aboard, as well as producing food in space, although this is far into the future. For now, we'd like to make Japanese Space Food a Standard Menu on the ISS. Enhancing the presence of Japanese food will most certainly contribute to the future of space exploration.
Sunaga: Japan is prone to natural disasters. Space food has an expiration date of 18 months at room temperature, is highly nutritious, and is, above all, delicious. As such, in the event of a disaster, space food can be used as emergency food. Furthermore, as population aging progresses in Japan, space food contained in small and safe containers is bound to be beneficial for senior citizens who have difficulty preparing their own meals.
Astronaut KANAI Norishige drinking green tea (Japanese Space Food). It is packed in a compact package for drinking easily. ©JAXA/NASA
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SANO Satoshi

Born in Yamanashi Prefecture. Since joining JAXA, he has been in charge of space experiments in collaboration with food and pharmaceutical manufacturers. Hosts the lifestyle study group that undertakes research on functional food, sleep, excretion, and acupuncture and moxibustion in space. Currently in charge of space food and health management technologies. Grows organic vegetables and makes takuan (pickled daikon radish) on weekends.


Born in Gunma Prefecture. Currently in charge of space food, daily necessities and perishable food. Focuses on collaborations with corporations and promotion of Japanese Space Food. Loves eating and has trouble controlling her appetite. Even dreams of eating. Hooked on visiting public baths and saunas in shitamachi downtown.