Why Steak And Eggs Was The Choice Breakfast For Astronauts

After over 50 years of space travel, we are all familiar with the process: astronauts suiting up in their heavy, padded suits and reflective helmets while strapping in for the iconic countdown and pulse-pounding launch into space. But what many don't stop to think about is before they start the technical aspects of being launched into space, astronauts have to have their most important meal of the day, and it's a very specific one at that. According to Boulder Weekly, astronaut Alan Shepard started the tradition of eating steak and eggs with orange juice and tea before space flights back in 1961 before his flight aboard the sub-orbital Freedom 7 made him the first American in space.

Express explains that NASA chose the meal because it was high in protein and would keep Shepard full for a long time. It was also chosen for being "low residue," which the GI Society notes is low on dietary fiber as it is meant to reduce the size and frequency of bowel movements. The mission was a success and Shepard's meal plan became part of NASA's routine. Eight years later, the crew of Apollo 11 ate the same breakfast before their mission launched and made them the first men on the moon.

A culture of traditions

Despite decades passing and many advances being made in dietary science, NASA astronauts still partake in this same meal of steak and eggs before departing on shuttles to the International Space Station today. Express notes that NASA employees refer to the breakfast as a sort of preflight ritual; one of many that astronauts and Russian cosmonauts have developed over the decades.

TheĀ BBC reports that along with their hearty meal, space travelers heading to the ISS from Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan partake in a long, often silly, series of rituals before flights, including signing their bedroom doors, being spun around on a swivel chair, listening to Russian love songs before takeoff, and even peeing on the back right tire of the bus to the shuttle; a "tradition" started by the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, who discovered he had to use the bathroom part-way to the launch. The thinking is that once something is done once before a successful mission, it should be repeated on subsequent missions.

"We're kind of superstitious in many ways," Express quotes NASA Launch Tower Chief Dane Dreftly saying. "Does it have any bearing on reality? No, absolutely not, but it certainly makes me feel better."

In the case of the steak and eggs, at least this tradition lets astronauts have a tasty last breakfast on Earth before weeks or months adjusting to a space station diet, which Royal Museums Greenwich notes is rather different than eating on Earth.