Monthly Archives: November 2010
It’s a holiday weekend (just barely) for me, so today’s post is going to be short. Really short. It’s inversely proportional to the amount of pie I’ve eaten in the last couple days.
Pie is the perfect food.
Americans in space on Thanksgiving are experiencing a holiday that traditionally features a large meal in a place where meals are as compact as possible. NASA tries to help by providing a dishes similar to the traditional ones: this year they included smoked irradiated turkey, candied yams, and green beans with mushrooms. Thursday’s Thanksgiving for the astronauts on the International Space Station was actually kind of busy, as some crew members were leaving, so the crew celebrated a day early.
Preparing the space foods for eating is going to be another challenge. There’s the need for heat, for cleanup, and that ever-present pesky lack of gravity, at least while you’re between planets.
There’s also going to be the actual cooking.
Some people can prepare their meals confidently, with the knowledge that their food is going to turn out delicious. I’m not one of them. For instance, there was the Liquid Cookie Incident (I followed the recipe exactly. It was not my fault). Also sometimes I call my sister to tell her about an improvised meal that I thought was going to be delicious but turned out to be awful, and she’ll say something like: “Why would you even think that was a good idea?”
Any space missions won’t want to risk one of their astronauts being like me. There will probably be recipes (but not the liquid cookie recipe).
As a sample, NASA has posted a recipe. For cornbread stuffing.
|Cornbread, prepared, crumbled||39.50||869.00||12 cups|
|Chicken broth||40.90||899.80||3 3/4 cups|
|Onions, chopped||10.47||230.34||2 1/2 cups|
|Celery, chopped||6.15||135.30||1 1/2 cups|
|Butter, unsalted||2.52||55.44||1/4 cup|
|Poultry seasoning||0.11||2.42||1 1/4 tsp.|
|Black pepper||0.07||1.54||1/2 tsp.|
|Parsley flakes, dried||0.04||0.88||2 tsp.|
|Sage, rubbed||0.04||0.88||1 tsp.|
They’re a little bit more intense about precise measurement than most home cooks.
This recipe comes with a home translation, for preparing your own NASA cornbread stuffing. Actual NASA recipe formulations, like this one for crawfish etouffee, are way more entertaining:
3.1 Combine flour, NATIONAL 150, CLEARJEL, Creole seasoning, salt, garlic powder, onion
powder, and cayenne pepper; mix thoroughly.
3.2 Add the flour-starch blend to the water reserved for the slurry and mix well. Set aside.
3.3 Add the water, wine, parsley, Tabasco, garlic, butter, tomatoes, yellow onion, celery, green
bell pepper, and green onion to the kettle; mix to combine.
3.4 Start low agitation. Open steam valve with pressure gauge set at 10 psi.
None of my kitchen utensils have a steam valve with pressure gauge.
In other recipe news, in 1981:
NASA asked Natick Laboratories to develop a contingency ration that would meet and retain 100 percent of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) and maintain consumer acceptability under ambient storage conditions for three years.
The chosen food: fruitcake.
The AP asked them to break it down for at-home cooking. And they did.
Now you know what to make all your random acquaintances for Christmas this year!
More recently, a Top Chef contestant won a contest to get his recipe for “ginger-lacquered short ribs with pea puree, pickled mushrooms and horseradish creme fraiche” to fly on Discovery at the beginning of December, with some modifications.
This post prompted by the release of The Astronaut’s Cookbook, a book that I don’t actually have yet (faster, interlibrary loan, faster!
In real life, the furthest humans have been from Earth is the moon; all these questions about space agriculture are for hypothetical future travel. In fiction, of course, that is so very not the case.
Let’s take this opportunity to look at how science fiction people of the future farm (or don’t farm) their space food.
Star Trek totally cheats.
When you can just tell your food to the replicator and it appears, there is very little need for space agriculture. Though several of the Star Trek ships did have hydroponics gardens for fresh/fruit vegetables, they weren’t mandatory. Since hydroponics avoids the dirt question and gravity and lighting on Star Trek ships is pretty much like it is on Earth, there aren’t a lot of obvious challenges here.
B5 grows some of its own food in Red Sector, meaning the station can (at least theoretically) support itself. Of course, “supporting itself” and “having delicious food always available” are totally different: there’s bribery required to get the ingredients for bagna caude, illegal on-board coffee plants using up valuable station resources, and do you know how difficult it is to get eggs out there before they spoil?
Look! Gardens! Give them a break on the CGI, it was 1995.
Serenity, unlike the Star Trek and B5 ships, is a run-down civilian ship, not a big shiny military/government ship, and it isn’t big enough to have a garden; we (or at least I) don’t know a lot about the insides of the big ships owned by people with money. We do know that a crate of apples is generous (and, considering who it’s coming from, freaky).
There’s also such a thing as Nutrient Bars aka foodstuffs, which don’t seem promising as far as indicating the widespread presence of space agriculture.
Battlestar Galactica (new version)
Battlestar Galactica is a show so depressing that I stopped watching after about half a season, so I’m not surprised.
There’s also an episode that features crackers, which are only a very tiny step above the food cube.
We’ve now reached the limit of my easily accessible space TV knowledge, and so far the plants-in-space as food source has come down on the ‘no’ side. Most of these shows expect that the ships will be moving quickly and frequently between planets with food sources–so there’s no need for them to grow their own food.
We clearly won’t have that option, and we can’t really take the Star Trek route, either: the replicator is not, for example, in PC World’s Star Trek Tech We Use Today (Almost) list. The closest to what we have is Babylon 5, and B5′s pretty similar to Earth in regards to growing conditions; plus, as I mentioned, it’s supplied by off-station resources as well.
It’s interesting to think that as far as future space tech we apparently give so little thought to something as vital as food, though perhaps not surprising, given the handwaving approach often taken to other important basics like artificial gravity and faster-than-light travel. Unless your show is about launching interstellar travel for the first time, details like food supplies, which are presumably routine, aren’t terribly dramatic compared to, say, epic space battles.
But I think that interval between the first off-Earth/moon exploration and humans being all over the place while ships zoom around between them would be a cool place to explore (preferably on a ship featuring space farms).
And if I didn’t cover your favorite show’s space food… share with a writeup in the comments!
I’m having trouble writing this post because instead of writing it, I’m watching Babylon 5. Of course B5 is looooong gone from the broadcast; that’s why I spent six years checking the TV-DVD section of every used bookstore I went into, until finally one happy, happy day several years ago I was rewarded.
Babylon 5, as a space station hovering out there
near Epsilon 3 someone stop me in space, doesn’t naturally have gravity. I mean, it does; everything does. But not to the degree that would hold people to the ground.
For calculating the gravitational force between two objects, you use the equation Fg=Gm1m2/r2. G is a constant, 6.67e-11 Nm2/kg2. On Earth (which has a mass of around 5.97e24kg and a radius of about 6378km), if you weigh, say, 200 pounds (90.7kg), that’s a gravitational force of a little under 900 Newtons, and you are being accelerated toward the center of the Earth at a rate of ~9.8m/s2.
Not coincidentally, this is the rate of free fall on Earth.
Babylon 5, on the other hand, has a mass of about 9.1e12kg and a radius of 420m. That same person, standing on B5′s outer hull, would be experiencing (if you pretend all the mass of a cylindrical space station is in one place, which I’m going to for simplification purposes) around 0.3N of force, an acceleration of 0.0034 m/s2. So… roughly 0.03% of Earth’s gravity.
To prevent everyone on the space station from having to float around all the time, they went with the spinning-thing gravitational system, so that the centripetal force simulates gravity for the people inside.
Plants: we’re getting there.
Plants on Earth are used to having gravity (clearly). The roots go down, where the dirt is, and the stems and leaves go up, where the air and sunlight is. In space, with microgravity, plants can get… confused. For example:
So it’s not just a matter of taking our space crops and plopping them into some plastic space bins. Someone must either:
1) make some gravity
2) figure out if plants are going to be okay with the minimal-gravity thing
As far as option1, artificial gravity research is just starting to take some new baby steps.
And on the US side, one piece of technology under development is the Veggie unit, which is supposed to grow space salad in boxes. I admit that’s not the technical description.
So I wonder, at what point will people investigating space crops need to consider the microgravity requirements of the place? If they just look funky in microgravity, then maybe it doesn’t matter much. If the potential functional issues prove to really affect the plant, though, then that might have significant influence on the way in which space agriculture can be investigated in the future.