Astronauts depend on foods that have been precooked and come packaged in a way that allows them to eat without making a mess. The same was true of astronauts aboard the International Space Station until sometime in 2008.
NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus joined the crew on the station as part of Expedition 18 in 2008. On coming aboard, she made some intriguing changes to what and how they ate.
How It Started
It all started with a can of Russian chicken with vegetables and added olives, pesto pasta, and sun-dried tomatoes. The result of these combined leaves a bit to be desired but was like a breath of fresh air. In her spare time, throwing meals like this around became her hobby. To Magnus, food was also an important part of their mission.
She did not have a standard kitchen with the best utensils or ingredients. Hence, she relied on what she could find; a dull pocket knife, zip-lock bags, and duct tape. Whenever she chopped vegetables, she used a strip of duct tape to keep them from floating away. She set the duct tape on the table with its sticky side and dumped the cut pieces on it. In her journal, she wrote:
“This works for everything from trash to onion and garlic peelings and lemon peel.”
Although she lacked fresh ingredients like fruit, fresh greens, or milk, she still came up with nice meals that were worth looking forward to. According to her, she planned ahead with the food lab to get most of what she wanted for cooking aboard the station.
Vickie Kloeris, the manager of ISS food systems, said that the astronauts were on a 16-day menu cycle. The menu contained a mixture of Russian and American foods for ISS. Before any mission, each astronaut is expected to make selections from a pre-approved menu. Each astronaut had the opportunity to take up extra supplies from their bonus container. The only clause was that these extras must meet the shelf-life requirements of the regular menu item. Magnus utilized this.
Cooking In Space – How Long It Takes
Magnus let us know that cooking on the ISS takes a long time. If she were to cook onions using the Russian food warmer, it would take up to four hours to get it cooked right. This explains why astronauts don’t do much hands-on cooking.
According to NASA shuttle food manager Michele Perchonok, it required a lot of time and effort. Also, there is the potential for a mess that cannot be overlooked.
For Magnus to prepare garlic, for example, she plans well in advance to have the right amount of oil and garlic onboard. She writes:
“To prepare garlic, and I have added onions to the mix, you keep some of the foil packets that the Russian dehydrated food comes in, put the garlic and chopped onions (large pieces) in the foil, squirt in some olive oil, fold the foil over to fit into the food warmer and turn it on. The warmer only works for 30 minutes or so, so every half hour, you have to come in and turn it on again. After about four or five cycles, you have cooked garlic and onions.”
She even made holiday-themed cookies with her crewmates for Christmas. She whipped up space salsa with sun-dried tomatoes, breakfast sausage links, ad hoc barbecue from baked beans, chopped onions, and a mixture of creamed spinach and a cream of mushroom soup.
During an in-flight interview, she said:
“Whenever I cook, I know the guys enjoy just the different flavors and the different flavor combinations that I came up with.”
Such innovation must have been appreciated. It surely gave the guys’ taste buds a taste of home away from home.
A Look At Sarah Magnus’ Life Onboard
December 1, 2008 – Sandra Magnus, Expedition 18 engineer, pictured in the Destiny laboratory of the ISS, near a bag of fresh fruits floating freely.
December 23, 2008 – Sandra Magnus pictured floating between two Russian Orlan spacesuits with Santa hats in the Harmony node of the ISS
December 25, 2008 – Sandra Magnus seen with Astronauts Michael Fincke (left) and cosmonaut Yury Lonchacov (right) posing for a photo in the Zvezda Service Module of the ISS just before eating a Christmas meal.
January 1, 2009 – Astronaut Sandra Magnus pictured having Tacos she made in space at the galley in the Zvezda Service Module of the ISS.
January 7, 2009 – Sandra Magnus poses with food pouches holding food she made in the Zvezda Service Module of the ISSS.
February 1, 2009 – Magnus again seen preparing to eat a meal aboard the ISS
February 3, 2009 – Sandra Magnus and Yury Lonchacov are seen working with food storage containers in the Zvezda Service Module of the ISS
March 4, 2009 – Sarah Magnus is seen eating a meal in the Zvezda Service Module of the ISS