Ax-3 Astronauts Give the ISS Team a Priceless Farewell Gift: Peanut Butter

Ax-3 Astronauts Give the ISS Team a Priceless Farewell Gift: Peanut Butter

An unexpected peanut butter treat was left in space by a departing astronaut crew.

On their approach to returning to Earth two days later, Ax-3, a four-astronaut expedition departing the International Space Station (ISS) onboard Crew Dragon “Freedom” from SpaceX, made a unique call-out in the minutes following undocking at 9:20 a.m. EST (1320 GMT) earlier today (Feb. 7).

Ax-3 commander and veteran NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegría backed away from the International Space Station (ISS) and told the Expedition 70 astronauts, during a NASA Television transmission, “There’s some peanut butter waiting for you in the airlock entrance, on the forward side, enjoy”. (The spacecraft spent just over two weeks parked at the port side of the Harmony module, facing space.)

Although there isn’t a complete menu for Ax-3, peanut butter has long been a mainstay in astronaut training. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Peanut Board, among other organizations, observes National Peanut Butter Day on January 24. The Axiom Space private crew actually had the opportunity to celebrate the holiday in space.

After two earlier trips to the ISS in April 2022 and May 2023, Axiom, a Houston-based company, is organizing its third crewed mission to the ISS, designated as Ax-3. As for lunch items, Axiom officials noted in 2023 that the business usually utilizes a food scientist to take “various commercial off-the-shelf food products” including “nutrition bars, candies, snacks and shelf-stable entrées” that will fair well in a floating environment with limited galley space.

However, NASA astronauts have been eating peanuts for centuries, so Axiom is by no means the first company to launch peanuts into space. There is a list of peanut cubes on the standard Gemini program menu in the 1967 book “Lectures in Aerospace Medicine.” Additionally, based on this image from the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution, it appears that variations of these cubes also flew to the moon with the Apollo 11 landing team in 1969.

In a 1966 television show for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, NASA space food specialist Paul Lachance talked about these peanut cubes that are suitable for astronauts, during the transition from Gemini to Apollo. “The bites we’d have are like the beef sandwich, which could also be a chicken sandwich, a cheese sandwich; compressed items, such as a peanut cube, which could also be a cereal cube of some sort; and even a fruit cake,” he explained.

It seems that in the 1960s and 1970s, peanut butter—which might or might not be distinct from these peanut cubes—traveled to the moon with Apollo astronauts. The NASA document “Space Food and Nutrition” from 1999 and a peer-reviewed research published in the journal Life Sciences in Space Research in 2023 both make reference to it.

However, there was not much room for meal preparation in these tiny capsules, so astronauts had to utilize a few squirts of water or consume the food out of tubes or packets. In 1996, Lachance stated during an oral history interview for NASA that the most convenient kind of food to bring on a flight were puddings or powders. 2017 saw his 83rd birthday. “You could really take them off the shelf, and then just find a way to add the water and shake them up and make a pudding and then squeeze it out,” he stated.

The shuttle program used a small galley for food preparation, and peanut butter was a mainstay. This Smithsonian image shows that it was, in fact, on board the inaugural mission, STS-1, in 1981. The tasty treat is still popular on ISS flights and occasionally appears in astronaut films, such the Canadian Chris Hadfield’s 2012–2013 space cookery segments and NASA’s 2017 Shane Kimbrough demonstration of making peanut butter and tortillas in space.

Sanchita Patil

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