China's first man in space, Yang Liwei, 44, revealed that while in orbit, he and the crew of the 2003 Shenzhou Five mission consumed dog meat from Huajiang county in Guangdong, China.
Dog meat was served to astronauts as late as 2009, according to a menu from a mission.
A passage from Yang's book, The Nine Levels between Heaven and Earth, quoted in the Telegraph, reads: "Many of my friends are curious about what we eat [in space] and think that the astronauts must have some expensive delicacies, like shark's fin or abalone [...] Actually we ate quite normal food, there is no need to keep it a secret."
The Telegraph reproduced a sample of the Chinese astronauts' menu from a 2009 mission:
Day One: Lotus root porridge, crispy tofu with spring onions, braised yellow croaker fish, pork ribs with seaweed, spinach with minced garlic. Day Two: Spicy pig skin, braised duck neck, hairy crab with ginger, chicken liver with chilli, pine nuts with sweetcorn, three-flavour soup. Day Three: Poached egg in fermented rice soup, Harbin sausage, Huajiang dog, baby cuttlefish casserole, eel with green pepper, spicy beans with dried tofu. Apples, pears and oranges served with every meal, as well as rice, noodles, sweet potatoes.
NASA's first astronauts in space endured a far more limited menu. In the 1960s, the crew of Mercury, NASA's first human space flight program, were fed "bite-sized cubes, freezedried powders, and semiliquids stuffed in aluminum tubes. "
Skylab, the United States' first space station, helped give NASA astronauts' meals a major boost and meals have since improved considerably.
According to the LA Times, "Favorite dishes on shuttle and space station missions include freeze-dried shrimp cocktail, irradiated beef fajitas and shelf-stable cherry-blueberry cobbler."
Yang Liwei's revelation has generated criticism and sparked controversy over the morality of using dogs as food. Jill Robinson, the founder of Animals Asia, criticized Yang, whom she said was a role model for children. She told the Telegraph, "[Dogs] found survivors after the Sichuan earthquake and protected people from potential terrorists during the Olympic games. Surely they deserve more."
Another spokesperson for Animals Asia, Irene Feng, warned of the "health risks associated with the farming, slaughter and consumption of dogs."
China is moving ahead with an ambitious space program that hopes to see a Chinese space base, the Tiangong 1, launch by 2011.