A giant blob of strawberry fruit punch splatted against the ceiling.
It had crawled out the straw in my drink container. As I reached to clean it up, spaghetti floated off my spoon. If that wasn’t weird enough, a tortilla suddenly whizzed like a flying saucer by my head. Mealtime in space was always entertaining.
When I began work at NASA in 1978, one of my first assignments as an Astronaut was to represent our office in decisions made about the Space Shuttle food. Weightless meals would be a vast improvement over the goo squeezed out of tubes in earlier days. A galley would provide hot and cold water, as well as an oven for heating. A tray with Velcro would replace the dining table.
We had to figure out which menu items would taste best and what kind of packaging would be needed. Since the Shuttle fuel cells produced pure water, freeze-dried dehydrated provisions like chicken and rice casserole, macaroni and cheese, vegetables, and fruits were great ideas. NASA packaged these in plastic bowls with a removable top. A needle from the water supply was inserted to hydrate them. Snip off the cover, and the food would stick to both bowl and spoon…if we were careful. Military Meals Ready to Eat—or MREs—in a pouch, such as barbeque beef or hot dogs, were readily available. Fresh apples, bananas, and bread were stowed. We had packages of crackers, cookies, candy, brownies, and a jar of peanut butter. While there wasn’t any Tang on board, powdered juice and coffee could be reconstituted in drink containers.
Playing with food provided a creative outlet. Throwing M&Ms into open mouths across the middeck took some skill, but bank shots were more challenging. Bananas peeled halfway made colorful helicopters. Music from Jaws played as a swarm of goldfish crackers swam up to the flight deck. How would a food fight in space have looked?
Some fare created problems. Based on past experience, my second commander forbade opening anything with a strong odor in the first two days of flight when some people might have motion sickness. Banana peels smelled terrible in the underfloor waste container unless they were double bagged. Bread pulled out of a bag generated a cloud of crumbs, so tortillas were substituted. Rehydrated strawberries were delicious unless the cook failed to fully mix the contents, leaving some of the berries crunchy.
Wonder what the crew of the International Space Station will be enjoying this Thanksgiving? My food system friend, Vickie Kloeris, tells me they might choose sliced turkey in a pouch, freeze-dried rehydratable cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes, and green beans. There’s packaged blueberry cobbler or bread pudding to heat up for dessert. So don’t feel sorry for them as you sit down for your family feast. Their meal will be good, and the view out the window will be delicious.
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