ISS Science Officer Ed Lu floats in the International
Space Station's Destiny Laboratory Module.
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at Cafe ISS
week I thought I'd write about a subject near and dear to
my heart -- food. You are what you eat after all. First off,
let me say I actually like the food here. It isn't quite like
Mom's cooking, but it isn't bad! In fact it isn't really cooking
at all, more like re-heating or re-hydrating.
have a real kitchen up here, but we do have a kitchen table.
You might wonder of what use a table is if you can't set anything
down on it, but we have bungee straps and Velcro on the tabletop
so you can keep your food containers, spoon, napkins, etc.
from floating away. You can find Yuri and I around the table
3 times a day. In fact the table, which is located in the
Service Module, is kind of the social center of the ISS. Even
though we only have 2 crew members now, it is where we congregate
when we have time off. Of course there are no chairs around
the table, what we do is float around the table while we prepare
our meals and eat. There are a couple of handrails on the
floor to slide your feet under to stabilize yourself.
to the table is our water dispenser, which has a tap for warm
water and hot water. That's right, no cold water. If you want
a cold drink, you need to prepare the drink, then leave it
for a while in one of the colder locations on ISS. It will
never get really cold, so the next really cold drink I have
will be when I get back to the ground! You get used to having
warm drinks though, and it really isn't a problem. Speaking
of which, we don't have a refrigerator up here either, so
all of our food is canned, dehydrated, or otherwise packaged
so it doesn't need refrigeration. So of course this means
no fresh fruit, vegetables, etc. That also means we can't
utensils, the only utensil we use is a spoon. Don Pettit had
a pair of chopsticks up here, but I haven't found where he
stashed them yet, so I can use them! It turns out there is
no need for a fork or a knife. All of the food that requires
a utensil to eat has some sort of sauce or at least some moisture
to it, so it naturally sticks to the spoon. This is the same
effect on the ground that allows drops of water to stick to
windows, here it allows us to eat without having our food
fly all over the place. This force isn't very strong, so you
have to move fairly slowly when eating, or the food will literally
fly right off your spoon (and onto the wall).
are all dehydrated and come in packets. We have lots of different
kinds of juices, tea, coffee, and milk. The juices are really
tasty -- my favorites are apricot and apple with black currant.
The Russian drink packets are clear plastic and have a simple
one-way valve where you add water; while the other side of
the packets has a built in straw. The design is ingenious;
you just cut off one end of the packet with scissors to open
up the valve, slide the packet onto the water tap, turn on
the water, mix well, and then use the scissors on the other
end to open up the straw. The problem is that if you aren't
careful, they have a tendency to leak and it is easy to get
juice or tea all over yourself or the walls. The same property
of liquids that lets them stick to your spoon also makes liquids
stick to your face. I know this from experience.
of the Russian-supplied food comes in cans. There are larger
cans for main course type dishes and smaller cans with things
like fish, eggs, cheeses, etc. Some of the canned foods I
really like include lamb with vegetables, beef with barley
(kind of like a meatloaf), sturgeon, and chicken with rice.
We have a food warmer that heats up the cans, and then we
open them up with a can opener. We open the cans almost all
the way but not quite completely so that the lid is still
attached (less things floating around). The cans have no velcro
on them to stick them to the table, and of course while you
are eating out of a can you can't really put it under a bungee
strap either. So if you need your hands free, you can put
a couple of drops of water on the bottom of the can, and the
water will help it to stick to the tabletop. If it is just
for a short while, you can just let the can float as long
as you are careful to keep an eye on where it is going. Remember
that you don't have to worry about food spilling out of the
can if it turns upside down!
have a lot of other dehydrated foods, such as tvorog (a sweet
Russian cottage cheese with nuts -- my favorite breakfast
item), vegetables, pastas, potatoes, fried rice, shrimp, etc.
You just add water to these packages and wait a few minutes,
then cut a flap in the package to get your spoon in, and eat.
Some of my favorites up here are the Russian soups: borsch,
beef and barley, spicy lamb soup, and others. If you have
ever been to Russia you know how delicious the soups are there,
and quite a variety of them are supplied for us. When re-hydrating
all these items, you have to make sure the water is mixed
thoroughly or you get dry powdery sections in your food. It
helps to shake the packages back and forth, or to hold the
package in your outstretched arms and flap them up and down
so centrifugal force moves the water through the package.
So if you see an astronaut holding a food package and waving
his arms up and down, it isn't just because he or she is really
excited about lunch (although that may be true), but probably
they are just mixing the water through their food. This trick
also works great to settle all the food down to the bottom
of the packet so you can cut the packet open without getting
food all over your scissors.
of the American-supplied foods come in sealed pouches. These
are similar to military MREs if you know what those are. They
are basically like canned foods, but without the can. Here
all you have to do is heat and eat. There are a large variety
of foods like this, but most of them haven't arrived yet to
the station. They are being shipped up here on an unmanned
space freighter called a Progress, which should arrive in
about a week. We are definitely looking forward to the arrival
of the Progress because they usually also send up some fresh
food like apples, oranges, and other goodies.
we have things like nuts, dried fruit, breads, etc., which
come in sealed packets. These are good when you are really
busy and have to eat and run. These foods are also fun to
let float so you can gobble them out of the air like a goldfish.
Even though your parents may have told you not to play with
your food, up here it is encouraged!
get to choose a few items that can include things you personally
buy in a grocery or other store, and which have a long enough
shelf life to last up here. I chose some Chinese foods (like
a sticky rice with sweet bean paste), beef jerky from Hawaii,
dried calamari, some canned French foods (duck cassoulet and
beef with burgundy sauce), and some packages of ready to eat
sticky rice (much better than that fluffy stuff!).
a variety of sauces like hot sauce, sweet and sour, Thai hot
sauce, barbecue sauce, etc., which you can use to spice up
most anything. Most of these come in squeeze bottles or little
restaurant packets. Getting the sauce to settle to the end
of the squeeze bottle so you can get it out is kind of fun.
You can either use a variation of the arm flapping technique,
or do like Yuri and hold the bottle with the top facing away
from yourself, and then spin your entire body like a top.
The centrifugal force makes it settle to the outside, and
you can then squeeze some of the sauce out while you are rotating.
the things I do miss is cooking myself, which I like to do
back home. The closest you can do up here is to mix different
foods. I really like putting peanut butter on the Russian
honey cakes. One day though I made an important discovery
by mistake when I accidentally opened a package of cheese
spread (it looks just like a peanut butter packet) and put
it on my honey cakes. It turns out to be pretty good, even
though it may sound terrible. Sox left me a couple of plastic
cooking bags, so I plan to do some experimental "cooking"
noticed that for some reason I really like putting a lot more
spicy seasonings on my food. A lot of other astronauts have
mentioned that they have this urge too. I sometimes put huge
amounts of hot sauce, garlic paste, or Thai hot sauce to the
soups and meat dishes. Luckily, we have enough hot sauce to
feed all of Thailand. I'm not sure why I like much spicier
food here. I don't crave sweets, salty things, or sour things
-- so it isn't just that I want stronger tastes. I can also
say that it isn't because my nose is congested and I can't
taste as well, although some astronauts sometimes have this
effect for the first few days in space. I wonder if people
on submarines or who spend months in Antarctica also love
spicy foods, in which case it is probably an effect of isolation
or limited food choices. If not, perhaps it is an effect of
weightlessness on your body. I am curious how my tastes will
change over the next 5 months!
is Yuri and I eating dinner at the table in the Service Module.
You can see the water dispenser behind us and our selection
of hot sauces!