COLLEGE STATION — An “out of this world” thank you was delivered to Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientists recently for keeping astronauts “fed and happy.”
Kirk Shireman, manager of NASA’s International Space Station, on Sept. 11 visited AgriLife Research’s space food research facility and National Center for Electron Beam Research in College Station, where more than 30 ready-to-eat foods for the space station have been developed and prepared since 2007.
“No man can be a patriot on an empty stomach,” Shireman said, quoting the famous poet William Cowper. “And we want to thank you for your many contributions to a successful human flight space program.”
Shireman presented the space food lab with a plaque depicting a collage of the space station, astronauts enjoying food prepared at the site and an International Space Station flag that had travelled to the station aboard the space shuttle Discovery.
Following the presentation and a tour of the facility, Shireman tasted a buffet of space food prepared at the center, including pineapple, baked beans, seafood etoufee, lasagna, carrots, and cranapple cobbler, noting that it tasted no different than similar food produced for earthly consumption.
In a large kitchen at the electron beam center, scientists have been studying and creating ways to minimize nutritional losses during processing while creating tasty foods for the astronauts’ breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.
“Research is under way at the center to explore the possibility of using electron beam processing for space foods to enhance the nutritional and sensory attributes,” said Dr. Suresh Pillai, the center’s director.
Pillai explained that unlike traditional freeze-dried space foods that have to be rehydrated, the center uses a commercial retort system that enables the food to be thermostabilized. The process eliminates pathogens so the packaged food is sterile and can be stored and used over a long period of time, he said, so astronauts merely have to reheat the packages.