On the menu are dried tomatoes, mature cheese, an Italian white bread known as piadina, peaches and chocolate, the European Space Agency (ESA) said on Monday.

The lucky guinea pigs are Russian space travellers Gennady Padalka and Alexander Kalery, who are carrying out an experiment, Mediet.

The experiment aims at improving the range of food for space travellers and providing them with "psychological comfort" for a long trip in space.

"The 'fast food' of the 21st century can be delicious and nutritious at the same time," the ESA said.

Challenging conditions

Scientists have worked hard to ensure the food is easy to eat in the challenging conditions of zero gravity and is neither too runny or granular, to prevent it from floating away and creating a potential hazard.

Diet includes tomatoes, Italian
bread, peaches and chocolate

Pre-cut into bite-sized pieces, the food is packaged in plastic bags tucked inside an ergonomic aluminium tray, rather like a TV dinner. The astronaut cuts open the bag with scissors and then uses a fork to pick pieces out of the bag.

To kill any nasty enzymes and bacteria, the meals have been processed at extremely high air pressure.

"This new method of preservation provides reliable long-term storage at room temperature, and at the same time allows the food to retain nutritional values, taste, texture and colour," ESA claims.

One thing, though, will be missing: a bottle of red wine, the routine complement to a Mediterranean meal.