NASA Podcasts

HRP Snapshots - Space Food Systems Laboratory
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HRP Snapshots Vodcast #1
JSC Space Food Systems Laboratory



NARRATOR: As science and technology helps make the once impossible feat of human space travel a reality, the Human Research Program works to keep astronauts safe and healthy. One unique challenge of humans in space is providing crewmembers with adequate nutrition. As mission lengths increase from weeks on the shuttle, to several months on the ISS, and perhaps to years on an extended mission, nutrition becomes even more important.

PERCHONOK: My name is Michele Perchonok. I manage the Advanced Food Technology Project and the Shuttle Food System and I work here at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

KLOERIS: My name is Vicki Kloeris. I’m a Food Scientist and I work at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

PERCHONOK: The Space Food Systems Laboratory is the only food lab here at NASA.

We are looking at how the human can live for long durations in space and part of that is getting the right food and the right nutrition. Food has both the scientific part of it – how do we get the right nutrition and keep it safe to the human – but also has the psychological part of it – how important is it to have the variety and acceptability of that food.

PERCHONOK: So where we are now is the Analytical Lab. It’s a small piece of our lab, but it’s the important part for the Human Research Program Advanced Food Technology work that we do.

This is a moisture analyzer. We need to make sure that the moisture is first safe, that we are at a safe level, but also that it doesn’t change over time.

We also have several colorimeters which measure color. This one will measure color of bigger pieces so if you had a vegetable that might have different gradations of color, this will give an average. And then we have a smaller colorimeter that does more specific, tiny pieces of color.

We also have our texture analyzer. And this will measure texture to make sure it’s not too mushy or it’s still crisp or it’s not too hard or firm, so we can start measuring how foods change over time.

KLOERIS: The area in which I’m standing is our wet lab. This area is where we process food items to go into the freeze drier or we do product development work. So this is basically a food preparation area where we have pieces of equipment that would be similar to what you might have in your kitchen except on a much larger scale.

Over my right shoulder is our packaging room where we package the freeze dried food items and the beverages and the bite size food items like cookies and crackers to go to orbit.

Over my left shoulder is our freeze drier room where we process all our freeze dried products. Most of the freeze drying activities takes about 5 days per product to fully process the items and get enough moisture out of them to make them shelf stable.

PERCHONOK: So this is our sensory booths area and can have about, well we can have up to 8 people testing our foods on a sensory basis. So sensory can be anything from flavor to texture to color to aroma – so all of your senses that you’re using. They can’t see other people trying the food and whether they’re grimacing or giving a really good positive look, they can’t see it.

The center part is our preparation area. That’s where all the foods are prepared and passed through little windows to the participants of the sensory. We sensory test items if we want to see how acceptable a new item is or if we are trying to decide if we want to flavor profile more sweet or more sour, we can look at that. And we also look at our shelf life products as they go through a shelf life test.

KLOERIS: This area is our test kitchen. Several activities occur here. The counter here we use for our taste panels with the crew members. So they’ll come in as a crew, either as a shuttle crew or a space station crew, and evaluate the foods. They’ll use the scoring of the foods to help them in selecting the items for their shuttle menus or for their bonus containers on space station.

NARRATOR: Currently the Space Food Systems Laboratory concentrates on near-term needs for the space shuttle and the ISS food systems, while working towards an advanced food system for long-duration exploration.

PERCHONOK: The distant future for space food, I hope will include some food processing and food preparation on the surface of whatever, moon or Mars or other planets or asteroids that we go to.

NARRATOR: Food scientists at the Space Food Systems Laboratory work to create nutritious and palatable meals that can withstand the rigors of space flight.

PERCHONOK and KLOERIS: And we think food science if fun!

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