STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And on this day before the scheduled launch of the Shuttle Atlantis, we're going to take you into space for a meal. It's part of our series, Hidden Kitchens.
Months ago, we opened a phone line on MORNING EDITION and asked you to tell us about unusual cooking in your communities. And today, thanks to that phone line, the Kitchen Sisters, Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson present this exploration of space food.
Ms. TIFFANY TRAVIS (NASA): Hi, Kitchen Sisters. This is Tiffany Travis calling with the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. I just thought the sisters would be interested to know what foods are being eaten 220 miles above the Earth. We would like to invite you to come out and take a tour of our space food lab, where our scientists create and package space food for our astronauts. Thanks, and look forward to seeing you.
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Ms. VICKIE KLOERIS (NASA): My name is Vickie Kloeris. I've been involved with space food for over 20 years. I am manager of the International Space Station Food System here at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Early on, in the space program, foods were all either cubed or tubed. When I came here, all we had was the shuttle program; food was way down on the list of priorities. A lot of it remembers viewed shuttle flights as camping trips. Yes, food was nice to have, but just send whatever.
(Soundbite of ad)
Unidentified Man #1: In space, they drank Tang. They mixed it like this in a zero-G pouch. Tang, chosen for the Gemini astronauts.
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Unidentified Man #1: Have a blast. Have some Tang.
Ms. KLOERIS: A lot of people over the years have asked me, wasn't Tang created for the space program? And the truth of the matter is, no, it was not. Tang chose to market the fact that they were used by the space program.
Mr. BILL McARTHUR (Astronaut): I'm Bill McArthur. I'm a NASA astronaut. Over the past 16 years, I flew onboard a space shuttle three times. And most recently flew onboard a Russian rocket to the International Space Station along with Russian Air Force Colonel Valery Tokarev and spent six months there as the commander of the 12th Space Station Expedition. For the six months Valery and I were up there, it's just the two of us.
Ms. KLOERIS: The food is a 50-50 combination on the International Space Station. The crew has to choose half their food from the U.S. menu and half the food from the Russian menu.
Mr. McARTHUR: We all like the shrimp cocktail. It's dehydrated. You really don't ever want to actually just examine a dehydrated shrimp.
Ms. KLOERIS: Presentation is very important to the psychology of food; and unfortunately in space we have very poor presentation. It's just a function of microgravity and there's not a whole lot we can do about it.
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Mr. McARTHUR: Sometimes I tried to simulate a jalapeno caleche(ph) in space - a dish that's very localized to southeast Texas. Take one of those flour tortillas, when we warm them up, it doesn't matter how many months they've been up there, they're nice and moist, and then put pork sausage links and a little bit of cheese and maybe some Tabasco sauce. On orbit, a lot of people develop a strong desire for very, very spicy foods.
Ms. KLOERIS: Now, our crew lives and trains in Houston, Texas; and so they get very used to our Houston cuisine. And the advantage of tortillas is that it doesn't create crumbs. Crumbs aren't good in microgravity, getting into the electronics and everything else, they'll float around.
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Mr. McARTHUR: Our table, there's a little clamp to hold your spoon in place. Velcro everywhere...
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Mr. McARTHUR: You become quite adept at hooking your toes under these handrails a couple of inches above the floor - just hang there. And sometimes you don't even bother. You've got a package in your hand, spoon in the other hand. You just sort of float.
Unidentified Man #2: Roger.
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Dr. MICHELE PERCHONOK (NASA): I'm Michele Perchonok. I am the manager of the food lab here as well as I manage the shelf food system and the exploration food system that will go to the moon and Mars. It's exciting and it's going to happen in 30-plus years.
It's obvious that we're going to have to grow some fruits and vegetables on the surface, because those are the kinds of things that really need to be fresh. By processing them, you're losing the aromas, the bright colors, the textures that everyone is going to want if you're away from home for two and a half years.
Then in addition, we could be growing soybeans, wheat flower, rice, peanuts, and then you can make pasta or bread, tofu. The crew is going to have to learn how to farm. And then also to be chefs or cooks in the kitchen.
Unidentified Child: (Unintelligible) space station. This is Neato(ph). Do you copy, Neato?
Mr. McARTHUR: I was pretty active on orbit, working with the worldwide amateur radio community. Between Valery and me, we made contact with 38 schools. I talked to operators on 90 different countries.
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Unidentified Man #3: Welcome to Brazil. Where is Ms. Valery Tokarev?
Mr. McARTHUR: He's right behind me, preparing dinner.
Unidentified Man #3: Oh, very nice. Preparing dinner, very good.
Mr. McARTHUR: On a normal day, we might only see each other at meal time. Meal times were our primary opportunity to share the pleasures of things that had gone well, to commiserate about experiments or activities that we were finding a little more frustrating.
Mr. VALERY TOKAREV (Russian Cosmonaut): Hello, this is Valery.
Mr. McARTHUR: Valery is a colonel in the Russian Air Force. I was a colonel in the American Army. We're about the same age. We've each been married about 30 years. We each have two children. We're both what some folks refer to as cold warriors, in that we both spent a significant portion of our military careers studying each other's military as our most threatening adversary.
But what we found is the things that we had in common were much greater than the differences. There are some Russian foods that are on my top 10 list; and there's some American foods that Valery particularly enjoys. We find it much more enjoyable to be friends than to be enemies.
INSKEEP: Space Food was produced by Devia Nelson and Nikki Silva and mixed by Jim McKee in collaboration with KUT in Austin. There are more stories in their book, "Hidden Kitchens: Stories, Recipes and More," from NPR's The Kitchen Sisters. And you can read more about what astronauts eat in space at npr.org.
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