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Space food tastes better than it looks

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NASA has come a long way since the 1960s, but don’t try the fish

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NASA's Vickie Kloeris demonstrates the rehydrating of some freeze-dried shrimp fried rice at the Space Food Systems Laboratory at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Vickie Kloeris knows how to prepare a Thanksgiving turkey that’s out of this world. As manager of NASA’s Space Food Systems Laboratory, she and her staff spend their days developing, testing and packaging meals for astronauts. The goal: variety, nutrition and flavor. No more dry meal cubes, especially during the holidays. So when astronaut Michael Foale and cosmonaut Alexander Kaleri open their meal packets on Thanksgiving Day, they will find turkey and all the fixings, even as they orbit 240 miles above Earth aboard the international space station.

WILL IT TASTE like a home-cooked meal? Almost.

“It’s good. It doesn’t taste a lot like a fresh carved turkey, but you can’t do that in a pouch,” Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield said Wednesday after sampling some of the food.

At first look, the food — which can be freeze-dried or thermostabilized, a process similar to canning — is not the most appetizing sight. The presentation — in clear or silver pouches — is a bit sterile, and the food can resemble the brownie cubes and chocolate pudding in a tube that astronauts during the Mercury and Gemini programs of the 1950s and 1960s ate.

But once the meals are rehydrated with water or heated, they taste surprisingly good.

Foods like shrimp cocktail — the most requested item by astronauts — or green beans and mushrooms, or split pea soup have the look, flavor and thickness of items eaten at any restaurant. Better yet, the food remains good in the packages for up to two to three years.

“We want foods with lots of texture and different colors,” said food scientist Donna Nabors, wearing a white coat and plastic gloves as she prepared a large tray of shrimp fried rice in the lab’s kitchen.

The dish, prepared with water chestnuts, peas, carrots and various spices, was placed in a machine resembling a large clothes dryer for a five-day freeze-drying process. Then, it will be vacuum-sealed in individual serving pouches.

Lt. Col. Yang Liwei, the first man China sent to space, ate such things as one-bite nuggets of spicy shredded pork, diced chicken and fried rice during his brief flight last month.

Having a variety of meals is important to the astronauts, Kloeris said. Astronauts on the space station have a 10-day meal cycle. Their menu, chosen from a list of more than 250 food items, is split between American and Russian food.

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Remind me to buy me some space food wink2.gif

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Sounds like Mre's.

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