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Special Recipes Give Space Station Crew A Taste Of Home

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There is a place where, no matter what you eat during the holidays, you'll never gain any weight

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station enjoy holiday meals just as their families do here on Earth. Although the food is not mom's home cooking, it's also not the "tubes and cubes" of the first meals in orbit during the Apollo years.

Don't expect someone to break out the "good china," though. On the Station, the holiday table is set with bungee cords and Velcro. Astronauts eat from disposable plastic containers and aluminum pouches. Instead of a carving knife, scissors are more important for meal preparation. Not fancy, maybe, but man what a view. Also, as with holiday meals on Earth, it's the spirit of peace and good will that warms the hearts of the diners.

The Challenges

With no refrigerator or freezer aboard the Station, food must remain good for long periods at room temperature. Freeze-drying is a good option for many foods. Others are thermostabilized, just like some foods found in grocery stores that do not require refrigeration. Just like on Earth, some items are vcanned while others like candy, nuts and cookies, are fine just the way they are.

The top Station chef is Food Scientist Vickie Kloeris. She has worked in space food systems at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston for 18 years. Kloeris oversees the area that manages the production and supply of Space Station and Space Shuttle food.

"Station crews have more than 250 food and beverage items they can select from the U.S. and Russian food systems, but they have to make their selections as early as a year before their flight," Kloeris said. "The choices range from barbecued beef to baked tofu, with probably the most popular item being shrimp cocktail," she said.

A Matter of Taste

Some people claim that the way a person tastes changes in space. Kloeris said although there is no scientific data to verify changes, many astronauts report a preference for spicy and tart foods and drinks.

The environment aboard the station is also a factor when considering food choices. Crumbly or loose foods can float out and contaminate the Station atmosphere, becoming an annoyance or even a hazard to crews and equipment. Many entrees and vegetables are packaged in a thick sauce that helps hold them in a bowl while they are eaten. Tortillas are favored over sandwich bread, because they create fewer crumbs and are easier to handle in microgravity. They also stay fresh longer than sliced bread.

Stocking the Station cupboard is an international effort; half the food is from Russia and half from the United States. The U.S. food comes from a variety of sources. Some comes straight off the shelves with only repackaging needed. Other items are custom-manufactured for space. The combination of the two food systems increases the variety of foods available to Station crews.

Before the launch of the Space Station, when Space Shuttle flights stayed in orbit only about 18 days, the variety of food available was not as extensive. Variety has become much more important, since crews stay in space for up to six months. One of the more popular items eaten by Station crews is a variation on a children's favorite that can easily be tried at home:

SPACE PB&J WRAP

Ingredients:
  • 1 Flour Tortilla
  • Favorite Peanut Butter
  • Favorite Jelly
Directions: Spread thin layer of peanut butter on tortilla. Add a thin layer of jelly.
Fold and enjoy.

Information about space foods and additional recipes are on the Internet.

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