In 1969, Charles Bourland flew to Houston to interview for a food scientist position at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. From his lodge’s lobby, he watched with millions of Americans as Apollo astronauts took their first steps at the moon.
It becomes a “pretty superb aspect” to witness while thinking about a NASA job, he recollects with a laugh.
Bourland, now 82, came onboard that year; he retired in 2000. In his 31 years as a NASA meals scientist, he did loads of things to improve the exceptional of what astronauts eat, inclusive of adding potassium returned into processed items.
Being a NASA food scientist may be complicated — the group has needed to deal with various demanding situations, from extending shelf lives via years to maximizing dietary value and minimizing the weight to retaining dishes from flying apart in microgravity.
NPR spoke to Bourland and Vickie Kloeris, a food scientist and food structures manager at NASA from 1989 to 2018, about their craft and its evolution. To commemorate Apollo 11’s 50th anniversary this month, here’s how ingesting in space has developed — from John Glenn’s first chew of applesauce to cutting-edge beloved Sriracha bottles.
When Kloeris joined NASA’s food program inside the Nineteen Eighties, food groups despatched bread into the area — however, it wasn’t ideal. Bread has a tendency to fall apart, and in microgravity, crumbs fly everywhere, contaminating the surrounding air and probably jamming sensitive equipment. It also has a totally quick shelf lifestyle, developing moldy in just a few days.
But in the mid-Nineteen Eighties, a payload professional from Mexico named Rodolfo Neri Vela went into the area and requested a special form of bread product — tortillas.
“Crew members saw how easy it was to take some thing and roll it up,” Kloeris says. “A lot easier to cope with than the bread and crumbs. After that, it becomes, ‘Forget the bread, permit’s convey up tortillas!’ ”
This solved the crumbs trouble, but not the mildew hassle. Tortillas again then handiest lasted eight to 10 days in orbit. So meals scientists at the Johnson Space Center commenced experimenting, drawing on maintenance techniques the military used for its bread products. This concerned decreasing the water pastime (free water) in the bread and packaging it with out oxygen to save you mildew. In this way, they were given their tortillas to last numerous months. But they could not get them to closing any further — until they took a few inspiration from the economic food enterprise.
In the Nineteen Nineties, Taco Bell began advertising a new soft taco-making kit. The tortillas on this package, they marketed, had a shelf life of 9 months.
As soon as the meals scientists saw this claim, “We knew that [the Taco Bell product] needed to be a low water-hobby tortilla,” Kloeris says. “We tested it, and sure sufficient,” the tortillas without a doubt lasted even longer, frequently over a year. NASA started buying Taco Bell tortillas and repackaging them for their astronauts.
Nowadays, NASA buys the same tortillas, but prepackaged, from the military, a supply for plenty of NASA food objects.
During the Apollo technology, astronauts had a fairly restrained menu. They had fewer than 70 objects to pick from, together with beverages, condiments, and entrees, according to a menu that Bourland provided to NPR. Nowadays, astronauts select their choices from a core menu of greater than 2 hundred objects, such as entrees like beef steak, lasagna and tuna casserole, which they warmness up in a small machine. Astronauts actually have a limited range of “preference containers” for ingredients of the core menu. For instance, astronauts who love sure packaged items, like a form of cereal, can request them for their flight. Space travelers from Japan or Europe, whom NASA additionally feeds, can deliver dishes from their home countries.
In order to make it onto the distance station as a part of the middle menu or as the desired item, meals ought to meet “microbiological and shelf-lifestyles requirements,” Kloeris says. In other phrases, no uncooked hen, eggs or every other meal in all likelihood to destroy quick.