Saturday, January 10, 2004
In a study recently released by NASA scientists 432 active and inactive astronauts were polled regarding their opinions concerning space food. The results were mixed but one uniform conclusion emerged, astronauts are a representative cross section of the larger earth bound population; they're "space food" junkies.
Topping the list of preferred comfort food for astronauts is M&Ms, followed a close second and in descending order of preference by, Kit Kat Bars, Tang, Moon Pies, Mars Bars, Lemon Sours and Big Macs. NASA scientists were interested to note that meat did not appear in the top five of the astronauts preferred food choices. Perhaps, suggested one scientist, "Big Macs are too unwieldy to eat in the weightless conditions that exist in most of outer space. At least in the presence of gravity your lunch, or if you prefer, launch partner can point out that the special sauce is dribbling down your chin instead of the less precise - kind of floating all over the place."
These results have NASA scientists puzzled, meat being the favorite food of just about everyone, and has led NASA to question the efficacy of proceeding full speed ahead with President Bush's new space initiative until a study can be conducted which would produce a revised space diet, one which more accurately reflects the nutritional norms of western civilization.
NASA Administrators therefore today launched a campaign to encourage private citizens and commercial food service industry groups to submit suggestions to NASA for the initiative designated "Une Nouvelle Cuisine pour L'espace Extérieur", translated: "A New Cuisine for Outer Space." Apparently the name derives from the rationale that if it sounds French, though it may never get off the ground at least it could be outrageously expensive thus fulfilling the first two goals of all previous NASA initiatives.
The study will include a comprehensive and detailed analysis of the entire food pyramid, excluding The Atkins Diet, a spokesperson stated that those items had not yet been classified as food and could not therefore be included in the study.
The intent of the study, as quoted by one scientist, "is to completely overhaul the diet and nutritional components of all future NASA missions to outer space. We're going to Mars after all, these guys are gonna be eating this stuff for months on end, not just weeks. We have to do whatever it takes to make sure that it's darn tasty."
Even as the announcement was being released by NASA suggestions began to pour in from private citizens and industry groups alike. What follows are some of the more notable entries.
From the kitchens of "Betty Crocker" came this dessert: Dehydrated Double Fudge Chocolate Cream Cheese Cake with Lemon Sour Drops. The astronauts would be provided with the usual boxed dry cake mix including two sealed plastic containers of dark chocolate frosting and white chocolate cream cheese. Upon arrival on Mars all the crew has to do to prepare the perfect desert for that first Mars Supper is to find water, mix with the dry ingredients and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, top with the cheese and chocolate frostings and, since they already have a good supply of lemon sours, add a few to the top for that special festive presentation.
From The Dairy Food Council and Kraft Foods came this proposal: Dehydrated Real Cheese and Macaroni Food. Boxed as a single serving or in multiples servings for a family of astronauts, these dinners are designed to provide convenience and the maximum nutritional value of cheese. To prepare a single serving the astronaut needs to find water and bring it to a boil, add the macaroni food, boil for five minutes or, as needed if the atmospheric pressure is lower that 1 earth standard. Add the Dehydrated cheese, mix to melt and serve. As an added nutritional bonus the box is made of dehydrated tofu and can be eaten as a crunchy accompaniment to the Cheese and Macaroni Food.
Another submission came from Melva Gustavsen of Bimidji, MN. Dehydrated Lutefisk and Savory Butter Sauce. For those of you who are not familiar with this traditional Scandinavian seafarers repast, it consists of Codfish soaked in a brine of lye water for several months to preserve it and then it is air-dried. Thus preserved Lutefsk may be stored safely for up to two millennia.
To prepare, first the astronauts will need to find some water and boil the dried Lutefisk until it's the consistency of raw fish, which has been stored in barrels of lye for several months. This may take from a few minutes up to a several hours depending on the millennial vintage of the particular batch. Heat the butter to melt and add salt and whatever indigenous herbs that can be found on site. It is suggested that found herbs be added to the dish off camera as NASA scientists take a dim view of astronauts eating any extra-terrestrial signs of life.
These are a small but revealing sample of the hundreds of suggestions and recommendations that have arrived at NASA headquarters from all over the world since the initiative was announced just this morning. NASA is grateful to all the interested citizens and industrial food mega manufacturers that have so eagerly lent their inspiration and culinary acumen to the study.
Administration officials plan to develop a new cuisine for future space initiatives until 2008 when Congressional funding of the program is scheduled to expire.
When queried by reporters after the news conference announcing the launch of the initiative NASA Chief Administrator and Executive Director Sean O'Keefe was quoted as saying, "I love that word, launch".
In a related story today an announcement by USFDA officials in Washington DC advised the press that all the "real" food and so called "food products" which would be supplied to future astronauts were to be certified safe before launch and therefore there should be no concern on the part of the American public with regard to the nutritional well being of future astronaut explorers. As for the matter of certification of the water that the astronauts will need to find in order to prepare this new cuisine a USFDA spokesperson replied that, "Water is water as far as the Agency is concerned and besides, our jurisdiction over the quality of drinking water does not extend to extra-planetary sites." This was later confirmed by an unnamed White House source. The USFDA statement went on to suggest however, as a precaution, that all future missions to space should be provided with a quantity of water purification tablets. These tablets could take the form of a remanufactured lemon sour drop that would be safe for human life but which when dissolved in suspect water would kill any unknown micro biotic life forms that could endanger the astronauts health. Officials were quick to stress however that this procedure should be preformed off camera as NASA scientists take a dim view of astronauts killing extra-terrestrial life forms when they find them. Following this announcement NASA Chief Administrator, Sean O'Keefe stated to reporters, "I love that word, launch."
In a final related story NASA Officials today announced that 431 of the 432 members of the college of active and reserve astronauts have voted to form a Committee of Astronauts to Reelect the President, or C.A.R.P. The one abstaining voice is that of Astronaut/Senator John Glen. Glen, in a separate news conference, announced the launch of an exploratory committee to seek his nomination for the Democratic senate seat representing the newly established colony on Mars in the 2008 elections. NASA Chief Sean O'Keefe declined to comment.
Finally, a note from the Editor: This is the first in a series of in depth reports from the Editor of our newly launched Green Cutting Board Press "Science and Technology Desk." Within these editorials we will cover events and trends in science and technology as they emerge and as they impact vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. We hope you will read these articles in the same voracious manner and with the same enthusiasm as that with which you have consumed our other offerings and that you will write to us with your comments and suggestions. When asked for an opinion regarding the launch of this new desk assignment, NASA Chief Sean O'Keefe accepted our invitation to lunch.