Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving in Space

"The astronauts on board the space shuttle Endeavour will not miss out on Thanksgiving" says a report from TechNewsWorld.com. Endeavour's seven astronauts and the three crew members at the international space station will take a break from their chores and gather for their special meal Thanksgiving Day. The last time a space shuttle crew ate their holiday meal in space was six years ago.

Instead of sitting at a large Thanksgiving dinner table, the astronauts will float around as they eat. The food pouches have Velcro tags which allow them to be attached to the astronauts' suits. The food also can be fixed to Velcro patches on metallic food trays, which each have a spoon, fork, knife and scissors tethered to them for cutting open the food pouches. The trays can then be strapped to the astronauts' laps or attached to a wall.

NASA works hard to give the astronauts a varied menu. Sixty new dishes have been prepared for astronauts in the last six years. Even so, it's hard to recreate the fresh tastes found on many Thanksgiving dinner tables, especially since NASA uses many industrial ingredients so the meals can be mass-produced.

The meals are light-years away from the mush squeezed out of aluminum tubes that Mercury astronauts consumed during NASA's first manned flights, or even the pureed shrimp cocktail and squeeze-tube apple sauce of the Gemini program.

Now the shuttle astronauts pick their daily menus before going up in space. The space station astronauts, who can live up to six months at the outpost, have a menu schedule that repeats every 16 days although they can make changes.

Historically, the space shuttles and space station have lacked a refrigerator for food, although Endeavour delivered a fridge for food and cold drinks during this mission. As a result, food taken up to space has to be bacteria-free. That is accomplished by either treating meats with radiation, dehydrating vegetables, or heating other foods up to 250 degrees for a half hour.

Up in space, the dried foods are prepared by squirting hot or cold water into the food pouch. The other foods are heated up in the food galley's oven, basically a hot plate which uses a fan to circulate heated air.

For the Thanksgiving dinner, the smoked turkey was irradiated and the green beans and dressing were freeze-dried, a form of dehydration. The candied yams and dessert were heated.

A week before Thanksgiving, NASA gave reporters a taste-test of the astronauts' holiday dinner. The smoked turkey was slightly stiffer than deli meat, like after it has been left in the refrigerator a week past its expiration date. The candied yams had a syrupy sweetness outside that dissolved into blandness in the middle. The green beans with mushrooms tasted like they had been frozen and then microwaved to within an inch of their life.

But, NASA takes special pride in desserts.



Happy Thanksgiving..:)