NASA uses ‘pigeons’ to map astronauts’ food preferences in space

NASA engineers in Huntsville, Ala., may have mapped every inch of the International Space Station, but astronauts on the orbiting lab are experts in food and living things. And for the first time, two U.S. astronauts used colored pellets to try out eating new flavorings in space in September, an event captured on a video made by the crew’s Twitter page.

Stacy DeBroff of Wisconsin and Reid Wiseman of Colorado used colorful pellets filled with mashed squash, chili, jalapeño and more as they tried new foods that are being added to the station’s menu in the coming year. “What do you like in space?” Wiseman asks DeBroff in the video. “Cabbage, potatoes, cauliflower,” DeBroff replies. Wiseman then helps the pair, peel out the cauliflower to reveal the outer root.

“On the ground, I can tell you that’s a snap,” he says.

Food aboard the space station is virtually identical to what astronauts would eat on Earth. But, sometimes, astronauts have a problem determining the “right” thing to eat. So food preferences on the space station have been accepted through the use of studies in laboratories on Earth. But while taking images of space station food from outer space can aid food manufacturers on Earth, the results can’t be totally accurate.

“This visualization was designed to ensure that the crew knew what to choose from their food carts and provided a visualization that reflects their preferences for new foods added to the space station diet for the upcoming year,” NASA officials said in a news release. “[It] highlights the wide variety of foods that currently make up the ‘full food service menu’ while giving the crew a preview of the space station’s future food program.”

Over the course of the year, the station’s crew will eat 6,000 meals – about a third more than the amount they ate in 2018.

In June, they will be served asparagus, carrot, black pepper and mustard; beef sweetbreads with horseradish and salsa verde; Thai fishcakes, broccolini and coconut curry sauce; millet pudding and sausage with mushroom gravy; tamales, chorizo, scallions and salt cod. In August, they will have tenderloin and milkcrate potatoes; roasted sweet potatoes, pumpkin and cream cheese with green onion; coleslaw, Belgian endive and cranberry vinaigrette; and grilled pineapple and radish. On Oct. 5, they will be served burritos, zucchini burritos, angel hair pasta, kale and ricotta. They will also have salad with roasted red peppers, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes and roasted garlic, fried soft-shell crabs and poached salmon.

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