NASA space shuttle’s cosmic cuisine

The food on space shuttle Atlantis

As NASA’s space shuttle Atlantis astronauts blasted into space this afternoon, the last thing on their minds was wondering what’s for dinner.

Rather Atlantis astronauts’ main focus is delivering over 27,000lbs of spare parts to the International Space Station. But once on in orbit it wouldn’t be that unusual to find spare ribs for supper.

According to NASA shuttle astronauts “have an astonishing array of food items to choose from.” NASA says each astronaut is allowed a "bonus food allotment" to bring some of the comforts of home to outer space.

Last year for example the International Space Station received its first crab meat delivery courtesy of NASA. Miller's Select crab meat flew onboard NASA's shuttle mission STS119.

Food can represent a peculiar threat to space life. You may recall that in 2007, an astronaut was trying to make a pretend sushi meal with bag-packaged salmon and accidentally squirted a blob of spicy wasabi into the air. After a lengthy cleanup, the wasabi was exiled to a cargo bay.

On the Space Shuttle, condiments are provided such as ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise. Salt and pepper are available but only in a liquid form because astronauts can't sprinkle salt and pepper on their food in space - it would simply float away. There is a danger ketchup, salt and pepper or other favorites could clog air vents, contaminate equipment or get stuck in an astronaut's eyes, mouth or nose, NASA's Space Food Website says.

Despite its "threat" to the astronaut, spicy foods are popular in space because most of the food is dried in one form or another and zero gravity does nothing good for sinuses or flavor. And this article notes "NASA's food laboratory carefully balances diets between six categories: beverage, rehydratable, intermediate moisture, thermostabilized, irradiated, and natural form." Astronaut Don Pettit brought along small cans of green chilies on one Space shuttle trip. On a previous mission, taco sauce had become carefully guarded currency.

Astronaut Sid Gutierrez once said space shuttle crews always take spicy accouterments like taco sauce to make food taste better. The taco sauce, he said, also could be used for barter. "If it was your turn to say, clean the latrine, you could trade for two packets of taco sauce," he said.

Some packaging actually prevents food from flying away - always a major concern. This is the reason tortillas are taken along on the flight rather than bread - tortillas make far less crumbs than bread and crumbs are bad because they can potentially float around and get stuck in filters or an astronaut's eye, NASA says.

Space food however isn’t reserved to astronauts thanks to a cook book out this week will tell you everything you wanted to know about cooking and eating in space.

The Astronaut's Cookbook - Tales, Recipes, and More - penned by NASA veterans Charles Bourland and Gregory Vogt offers up a number of recipes as well a history of space feasting just in time for Thanksgiving, if you are so inclined.

The book includes a number of interesting space food facts:-Soviet cosmonaut, Gherman Titov, was the first human to consume food in space-John Glenn, Jr., was the first American to consume food in space-One astronaut wanted Georgia BBQ in space.

The book includes astronaut home favorite recipes and NASA quarantine food recipes. Celebrity chefs Rachael Ray and Emeril Lagasse contributed recipes to the NASA space program, and their recipes are featured in the book.

Recipes in the book are extracted from the NASA food specifications and modified for regular, earth-bound kitchens. Bourland spent 30 years at the NASA Johnson Space Center developing food and food packages for spaceflight. Vogt is a veteran writer, science consultant, and developer of science and technology materials for schools.

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