|Services Open Space Meatless Meals Await Astronauts|
THE MIAMI HERALD (USA) Thursday, October 22, 1998
Reprinted with permission of THE MIAMI HERALD
When it's mealtime on board the space shuttle Discovery (scheduled for launch next week), John Glenn won't be sucking applesauce out of a tube like he did on his earth orbit 36 years ago.
That's a long way from the "edible biomass" NASA once fed its astronauts. Still to come: vegetarian-based diets for 21st Century space travelers.
Jean Hunter, a professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Cornell University, is at the midpoint of a three-year study funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to develop menus for months-long space missions to the moon and Mars, where astronauts will grow and prepare their own food.
The team at Cornell is not only developing recipes made from produce that can be grown in space, but also learning how much labor, energy and money will be required. They want to keep it tasty and simple.
"We are sending them to do science, not keep house," says Hunter.
The NASA menu is mostly vegetarian. "Plant agriculture is more efficient and requires less labor," says Hunter. The staples will be potatoes, wheat, rice, soy beans, sweet potatoes, peanuts, beans, lettuces, tomatoes, carrots and radishes. The astronauts will tend hydroponic farms on the moon. "There will be rows and rows of small rain gutters and each one will have a little cover on it with little square holes. And out of each hole comes a plant," says Hunter.
The plants' roots will sit in a nutrient solution illuminated with natural light on earth, artificial light on the moon and a combination of the two on Mars.
For the past 18 months, Hunter and vegetarian chef Adriana Rovers have been presenting little mounds of potential space food to a panel of 48 taste-testers - half men, half women between the ages of 30 and 50, all of them meat eaters.
are two vegetarians in the current astronaut corps, Hunter says
the goal is to create dishes that will appeal to meat and potato
eaters, too. With help from Rupert Spies, a chef and instructor
at Cornell's School of Hotel
So far, the taste panel is having a ball, giving thumbs up to seitan fajitas, tempeh sloppy joes and salads with creamy tofu-based dressing. It's been thumbs down on big green gobs of who knows what.
"If it rates less than a six on a one-to-nine scale [nine is tops], we either rework it or send it to the scrap heap," Hunter says.
She says they are having the most trouble with desserts because so many are based on dairy and sugar. "We sure can't grow sugar cane on the moon and we can't take huge amounts of sugar on board," she says. Salt is another bugaboo. "NASA is in a dilemma about salt," says Hunter. It makes food taste good, but too much can speed bone loss, which is already a problem in space.
On the other hand, "If they don't eat it, it's not nourishing," she says. "NASA is very picky about the astronauts staying in top physical condition."
Hunter says the variety, appearance and taste of food in space is as important as it is on earth - maybe even more important.
"If you are jammed in a tiny space with other people, busy all the time with tasks someone else has set out for you to do, the sameness and stress make you cry out for enjoyment," she says. "They'll need variety, and food is one of the only things up there that will give them any variety at all."
The astronauts' training will include cooking lessons, and by the time they're ready for lift-off, "They'll even be developing their own recipes," says Hunter. "Don't we all do that when we cook for ourselves?"