Researchers Conduct Low-Gravity Test Of Innovative Space Galley
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
One of the downfalls of space travel is that astronauts are limited in the types of food they can eat due to the low gravity environment, but researchers from Cornell University are reportedly working on a solution that could one day allow the men and women traveling to Mars or the moon to enjoy a home-cooked meal.
According to Stacey Shackford, a writer for Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, postdoctoral research associated Apollo Arquiza and Bryan Caldwell recently conducted what is being called the first known partial gravity cooking demonstration.
Arquiza and Caldwell, who work in the laboratory of biological and environmental engineering associate professor Jean Hunter, boarded a zero-gravity space simulator plane in April in order to test the effectiveness of a specially-designed space galley created in collaboration with Susana Carranza of Makel Engineering in Chico, California.
As part of the demonstration, which Caldwell discussed Thursday during a Cornell University press event, the researchers conducted a series of four flights that lifted off from Houston, Texas. He and Arquiza “tossed tofu and shredded potatoes into pans of sizzling oil” and filmed the results, Shackford said.
Each flight included a short period of partial weightlessness, simulating the conditions faced by astronauts during extended stays on the moon or Mars – which the university explains have one-sixth and one-third the gravity of Earth, respectively. The plane climbed and descended in parabolic paths while dishes were being prepared.
The research team filmed the oil spatters resulting from the flight. They also placed strips of paper inside the fume hood of the galley, and dyed the oil bright red in order to help them detect and collect splatter patterns, Shackford said. The results wound up being “a bit messy,” according to the Cornell writer.
Food settled into the pan more slowly under low gravity conditions, and an increased amount of oil appeared to fall outside of it. Oil droplets also appeared to travel further away from the pan in space than they usually do in a regular Earth kitchen, likely because it took gravity longer to pull them downwards, Arquiza explained.
“Arquiza ended up with a collection of 200 red-speckled strips that might resemble evidence from a crime scene investigation, but could contribute greatly to our understanding of the basic science of cooking in space,” Shackford said. The size distribution of the particles and the distance they traveled will now be analyzed and used to develop computer models which could be used in the development of future space-based cooking technology.
“It’s amazing to be able to marry the computational aspects of research with real-life feet-on-the-ground – or in this case, not on the ground – data to get a fuller picture of what is going on,” explained Hunter. “Understanding oil spatter in reduced gravity is a big step toward designing safe and convenient cooking facilities for future space colonies.”
The in-flight demonstration itself was the culmination of several months’ work of research, as the research team fine-tuned and tweaked the details of their space galley. They made sure that the induction cooker used in the trial had the ideal power setting so the oil could be heated quickly without crossing its smoke point.
“Incorporating design elements from submarine galleys and chemical fume hoods used in labs, Arquiza and Carranza created an enclosed unit with activated charcoal filters and a fan that sucks in air from the front and draws particles away from the cook,” Shackford said.
The goal was to design a cooking system that was capable of withstanding nine Gs worth of force and keep the odors created by the frying process under control, she added. Prior to the flight, air flow models were created using computational fluid dynamics and dry-ice fog, while during the actual in-air demonstration, experts from the NASA Reduced Gravity Research program were on hand to assist the Cornell University team.
“The project is part of a larger investigation by Hunter’s lab into scientific and social aspects of food in space, including a simulated Mars mission in Hawaii to test resource use, menu fatigue and the benefits of home cooking in an enclosed environment, and a bed rest study to test the effects of simulated weightlessness on smell and taste perception,” Shackford noted.
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