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 Dining in Space

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Dr.Salah Hassanein

The problem of being an astronaut in the shuttle or the space station is; you have to eat in. You cannot go to a nearby restaurant or even order in if you don't like the food in the spaceship. 

NASA Space Food Systems Laboratory has a combination of top chefs & food scientists who are constantly developing, testing and packaging meals for astronauts. Their goal is to ensure: variety, nutrition and flavor. No more dry meal cubes, especially during the holidays like Christmas. So when astronaut & the cosmonaut presently orbiting 240 miles above Earth at the international space station , open their meal packets on Christmas, they will find turkey and all the fixings .Will it taste like a home-cooked meal? Almost. "It's good. It doesn't taste a lot like a fresh carved turkey but you can't do that in a pouch," Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield said Wednesday after sampling some of the food. 

At first look, the food ' which can be freeze dried or thermostabilized, a process similar to canning ' is not the most appetizing sight. The presentation ' in clear or silver pouches ' is a bit sterile. But once the meals are rehydrated with water or heated, they taste surprisingly good. Better yet, the food remains good in the packages for up to two to three years.

Shrimp cocktail, the most favorite item by astronauts .The dish, prepared with water chestnuts, peas, carrots and various spices, is placed in a machine resembling a large clothes dryer for a five-day freeze-drying process. Then, it will be vacuum sealed in individual serving pouches. 

Food scientists at NASA try to make the meals appetizing by mimicking the texture and colors of the earthly meals

The first Chinese Astronaut , munched on one-bite nuggets of spicy shredded pork, diced chicken and fried rice during his brief flight last month. 

Having a variety of meals is important to the astronauts. Astronauts on the space station have a 20-day meal cycle to avoid them suffering from menu fatigue. Their menu, chosen from a list of more than 250 food items. More variety on the menu is important for the space station crew living aboard the space station for several months. It helps them psychologically. Food can become an important part of an astronaut's daily routine. Space station crew have three meals a day plus a snack, heat up some of their food in a warmer that looks like a silver suitcase. 

Each meal costs an average of $100, mostly due to packaging and testing. It can take six to eight months for the lab to develop and test a new food item. Wine and cocktails are not part of their meals. There is the odd bottle of Champagne for celebration. However I bet you, anything, those Russian cosmonauts are smuggling a few bottles of Vodka in their space suites. After dinner Cuban cigar & French Cognac are still not among the space ship luxuries. 


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