November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Dinner In Space

The seven astronauts and three crew members aboard the International Space Station will take a break from their duties to partake in a Thanksgiving Day meal served 220 miles above the Earth.

The irradiated, freeze-dried, vacuum-packed turkey, yams, green beans, and corn bread stuffing may not be the holiday meal the crew is used to, but Thanksgiving feasts don't occur in space too often.  The last Thanksgiving meal to take place in space happened six years ago.

"It gives us a moment to pause and reflect just how fortunate we are as a country and as global community," said Endeavour commander Christopher Ferguson. "We're thankful for that, in addition to the opportunity to fly in space."

The crew plans on including lone Russian cosmonaut Yuri Lonchakov in the space version of the traditional Thanksgiving meal.

The freeze-dried foods will not be the only variation on the holiday meal.  The crew will float as they eat, eating with food pouches that are secured to their suits with Velcro tags.  The food can also be fixed to food trays which strap to the astronauts' laps.

Although the food will be similar, it will miss some of the fresh flavor those of us on Earth will enjoy.

"You lose those high notes of flavor," said Michele Perchonok, manager of NASA's food technology lab. "You're not going to get those nice, herbal, spicy notes that are really fresh."

The meals are still much improved over the mush squeezed out of tubes that the Mercury astronauts ate during some of the first manned space flights.

Currently, astronauts choose their daily menus before their mission.  The menu schedule repeats on the ISS every 16 days.

The Endeavour crew hopes to improve the ISS food situation by installing a refrigerator for food and cold drinks. 

Preparing food in space is done by squirting hot or cold water into the freeze dried food pouches.  The foods can also be heated using the food galley oven, which is a glorified hot plate.

One week before Thanksgiving, NASA let reporters taste-test the holiday dinner that will be served to the crew.  According to taste-testers, the turkey tasted like meat that had been left in the refrigerator past its expiration date.  The yams were sweet on the outside, but bland in the middle.  The green beans tasted like they had been overcooked in the microwave.

Tasters did enjoy the cranapple dessert which had tart apples and cranberries mixed with pecans and resembled a cobbler filling.


Image Caption: Astronaut Steve Bowen, STS-126 mission specialist, participates in the mission's fourth and final scheduled session of extravehicular activity (EVA) as construction and maintenance continue on the International Space Station. During the six-hour, seven-minute spacewalk, Bowen and astronaut Shane Kimbrough (out of frame), mission specialist, completed the lubrication of the port Solar Alpha Rotary Joints (SARJ) as well as other station assembly tasks. Bowen returned to the starboard SARJ to install the final trundle bearing assembly, retracted a berthing mechanism latch on the Japanese Kibo Laboratory and reinstalled its thermal cover. Bowen also installed a video camera on the Port 1 truss and attached a Global Positioning System antenna on the Japanese Experiment Module Pressurized Section. (NASA)


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