9 September 2010
Online - Habitat (Good)
Why NASA Has Never Cooked in Space
Food scientist Dr. Bourland talks about space tourism
by G B Leatherwood
Before he retired from NASA in 2000, Dr. Charles T. Bourland had researched and designed food for astronauts from the Mercury program to the International Space Station (ISS). With all that Dr. Bourland knows about food in space, he could write a book. So he did. It’s “The Astronaut’s Cookbook: Tales, Recipes, and More.”

After a brief review of the book, Space Future Journal thought it would be interesting to see what Dr. Bourland thinks about the role of food in the nascent field of space tourism. We reached Dr. Bourland at his home in Osceola, MO, and asked him to comment.

Space Future Journal: After you retired from NASA, you taught at class at the Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, called "Living, Working, and Playing in Space," for prospective hoteliers and restaurateurs. How did this come about?

Bourland: I had a colleague at the Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston, Dr. Clinton Rappole, who had an interest in space and even had a few contracts with NASA in the past. He usually brought some students to the Johnson Space Center (JSC) every year for a food system tour. As you know, Barron Hilton had an interest in space hotels, and Clint had talked to him about it. A side note, did you know the couch in one scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey, has a Hilton logo on it? I used to show the first part of this movie to the class.

Anyway, Clint had wanted to teach this class and he had two post docs do it for three years. When they moved on and I retired, he asked me if I would like to teach the class. It was a lot of work for me in the beginning, but I enjoyed it. I didn’t realize before I [taught] the course that hotel and restaurant management students are mainly business students and do not get [to study] much science.

I taught…“Living, Working, and Playing in Space”…for three years after I retired from NASA in 2000. The University sent me to two space tourism conferences. I sat next to Buzz Aldrin at one conference.

We did not work on space tourism food while I was at NASA.

SFJ: Space tourism is on the verge of becoming reality. The first trips will be so short that food will not be an issue, but eventually longer duration flights will be possible. What foods do you think will be best suited for trips of several days to several weeks?

Bourland: We had planned a frozen food system for ISS, but it never became a reality because the Habitation Module was cancelled. A frozen food system offers a much higher quality food and would be best suited for space tourism. Looking at the type of food preservation verses the quality, dehydrated has the lowest quality, followed by thermostabilized (canned), frozen, then fresh. Some fresh food can also be incorporated if refrigeration is available.

SFJ: Astronauts and other passengers so far have been in superb physical condition, including digestion. Tourists will be “ordinary folks.” What precautions should be recommended for the tourist as far as physical condition is involved?

Bourland: I would think that the passengers would not just walk off the street but would undergo some type of physical and some training prior to launch. Physical condition similar to astronauts should not be expected, but physical limitations should be known and training included.

SFJ: Even for short sub-orbital flights, what should prospective passengers have for meals before their flights?

Bourland: What is consumed before a flight depends upon several things. If they are susceptible to space motion sickness, then a very light meal is recommended. I used to not even drink a cup of coffee before going on the zero G plane, because an empty stomach is easier to deal with if you get sick. Suborbital flights may not have restroom facilities, so liquid consumption should be limited prior to launch. They may want to experience eating or drinking in zero G so this should be considered. Timing of the meal is also important. The astronauts eat their launch meal several hours before launch, so most of the food is already digested before they leave the launch pad.

SFJ: So far, only a very few potential tour operators seem to be getting ready for suborbital, then orbital, then longer flights. What physical facilities (refrigeration, fresh food storage, waste disposal, etc.) should be provided?

Bourland: The physical facilities depend upon the food system. If astronaut food is used and produced elsewhere, then refrigeration and waste facilities would be the only facilities required. If a frozen food system is used, then freezers and frozen food handling equipment to get it on the spacecraft would be required.

SFJ: Orbiting resort hotels are being planned. What planning should they be doing to feed their guests? What would an orbiting resort hotel menu look like? Would tour operators compete for business with their menus? The consensus at one conference you attended was that for the prices people will be paying they might expect something super.

Bourland: I used to have my class design an orbiting resort hotel as the final class project. Since this was a hotel and restaurant management college, the menus and food was usually gourmet. A hotel would definitely require food service and household personnel. The food would most likely have most of the preparation work done before launch to conserve room. If cooking is done, then research in the design and operation of micro gravity cooking would be required. NASA has never cooked in space. Tour operators could definitely use their menus to gain business.

SFJ: Thank you very much for your insights and comments. Like many other areas of space exploration and development, food will be a critical element. As the orbiting hotel evolves, perhaps we can leave the food sealed in little plastic pouches behind....
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G B Leatherwood 9 September 2010
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