The NASA Village
Today in the NASA Village… Food in Orbit: Is it Science or Art?
Food is the one thing that most astronauts will lament that they did not spend enough time thinking about before being launched into orbit.
At NASA, all food is carefully formulated to meet nutritional, safety and quality requirements. These items have a shelf-life of up to two years and must pass stringent micro and quality checks before being launched into orbit. The most popular items are included in a “standard menu” and supplied in regular intervals. However, crew members are also given an opportunity to pick additional items that will be included in his/her “preference” containers. Putting careful thought into what goes into those containers is extremely important and will ensure that astronauts are happy with the food selection throughout the entire mission!
Something we all have in common is our love for food.
Dr. Takiyah Sirmons always had an interest in food, but it wasn’t until she participated in a high school research program that she decided to pursue Food Science as a major. She said, “while the rest of my friends were enjoying summer BBQ’s and working at Six Flags, I was in a lab counting bacteria used to make cheese. It sounds pretty dorky now that I mention it, but it was actually one of the coolest things I had ever done! The rest is history…I’ve been a Food Scientist ever since.” You can see her working in the Johnson Center Food Laboratory in the above photograph.
When I got to orbit on my first flight, it seemed take about 3 weeks for me to actually “feel” hungry. I was only eating because it was “time” to eat. My theory for part of that delay in adapting the appetite, is the fact that you do not smell the food while it is cooking (more accurately, warming up). It is not until you open the package, that there is a sense of smell to help (or maybe not) with your appetite. The importance of the sense of smell was reinforced to me after the arrival of a Progress cargo vehicle that delivered some fresh fruit (which we smelled when we opened the hatch), onions, and fresh garlic.
Fresh garlic is commonly eaten raw in Russia, but I love mine roasted. I came up with a way to “roast” the garlic in space, using a drink bag which I clipped off one corner of to insert the garlic cloves and some olive oil, resealed with a heavy paper binder clip, and put into the suitcase oven for the afternoon. The whole station smelled of roasted garlic! I loved it and I was hungry at suppertime!
Experimentation is a huge part of the work taking place in the Space Food Systems Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center. The NASA Village often participates in taste panels, where they sample and rate the quality of newly developed foods, as shown in the photo above. Dr. Sirmons spoke about one of her first projects for the International Space Station, where she had to reformulate Tomato Basil Soup. She said, “The project should’ve been simple, except I had never actually tasted Tomato Basil Soup (I absolutely hate tomatoes). Instead of mentioning this to my team, I dove head first into this project and ended up making about 50 versions of the product before I actually broke down and purchased soup from the store. After trying literally every soup on the shelf (and making myself sick to the stomach), I came up with a formula that was a hit within the lab…I still don’t eat tomatoes, but the formula was a hit.” I suppose we all have to suck it up a bit sometimes….and I love the tomato basil soup on board!
Want to learn more about space food? Learn more about how astronaut food has evolved in the food laboratory over time here:
Thought for ponder: The world population is estimated to reach 9 billion by 2050…without advances in Food Science, it wouldn’t be impossible to feed everyone. How can we make more sustainable food systems?
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