November 25, 2014
Thanksgiving Dinner On The ISS: Now With Coffee!
Life on board the International Space Station (ISS) is vastly different from life on Earth in countless ways, starting with the whole complete-lack-of-gravity thing. This Thanksgiving, however, the international six-person crew will get a little taste of home in the form of a traditional turkey dinner complete with all the fixings (kind of).
You see, Expedition 42 crew members Barry “Butch” Wilmore, Terry Virts, Anton Shkaplerov, Alexander Samokutyaev, Elena Serova and Samantha Cristoforetti will be “cutting open bags of freeze-dried, irradiated and thermostabilized foods” and enjoying what NASA officials are calling a “traditional holiday fare with a space-food flair.”
So what’s on the menu for these hard-working astronauts? Irradiated smoked turkey, thermostabilized candied yams, freeze-dried green beans and mushrooms, NASA’s own freeze-dried cornbread dressing and thermostabilized cherry-blueberry cobbler for dessert, the US space agency said. It probably won’t be as succulent as a slow-roasted bird, but at least the ISS crew doesn’t have to spend hours trying to cook the darn thing!
In all seriousness, though, the Thanksgiving-dinner-in-orbit that the crew of the space station will have on Thursday highlights some of the advances that NASA and its international partners are working on in order to make life a little easier for those spending months at a time floating around in the zero-gravity environment of space.
NASA said that the food typically used to feed the ISS crew resembles that used since the dawn of the Space Shuttle program three decades ago, but the agency noted that it is working on ways to extend the shelf life of the food that will be required for planned missions to Mars and eventual journeys into deep space. Laboratories on the station are also working on experiments that will one day hopefully allow crew members to grow lettuce and other plants.
“Future crew members spending Thanksgiving in space may have one traditional staple, fresh sweet potatoes,” the agency said, noting that it may be one of the crops used on deep space missions because it contains energy-producing carbohydrates and beta-carotene. Sweet potatoes can adapt to a controlled environment with artificial sunlight, it added, and the side shoots are tender and can be eaten in salads if they are picked when young.
One taste of home that the ISS crew can enjoy right now is a good cup of gourmet coffee thanks to the ISSpresso, which arrived on the space station earlier this week, explained Chris Davies of SlashGear. Developed by Italian coffee product manufacturer Lavazza and aerospace engineering firm Argotec, ISSpresso was specially designed for use on the station, borrowing techniques from pod coffee makers to overcome the challenges of brewing the popular caffeinated beverage in zero gravity.
As Davies explains, ISSpresso keeps both the water and the ground coffee itself in separate pouches. It begins by heating the water, then pressurizing it before running it through the coffee capsule and into a plastic pouch. The astronauts then sip the beverage through a straw. Since it was made from steel instead of plastic, and was designed so that every critical component has a backup installed, ISSpresso weighs in at a robust 44 pounds.
Argotec said that it has been working on the machine since 2012, and lest you think this is just about making sure that astronauts can wake up to a nice cup of joe in the morning (as if that wasn’t a noble enough cause for the research in and of itself), Davies pointed out that there are “scientific benefits” as well. Those benefits include “insight into fluid dynamics and other implications of microgravity. Advances both in space on back on Earth will arrive as a result, Argotec insists, with patents already having been filed.”