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Engineers Are Cooking Up Design for Space Kitchen

Times Staff Writer

What may be the most expensive kitchen on earth--or anywhere else--is now being designed in Huntington Beach by McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Co. engineers.

Galloping gourmets the engineers are not, but last month NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston awarded McDonnell Douglas a $1.5-million contract to design a kitchen for the $8.5-billion space station that is scheduled to lift into orbit sometime in 1994.

Although McDonnell Douglas expects to lose money on the kitchen project, company officials don’t mind. They are eager to convince NASA that the giant aerospace firm can not only design the proposed multimillion-dollar kitchen, but that it should be awarded the contract to install two space station modules--worth about $3 billion--where crew members will eat, sleep and exercise.

Although planned assembly of the space station is nearly a decade off, competition for space station contracts is already intense among McDonnell Douglas and companies such as Rockwell International and Boeing Corp.

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The sprawling, 400-foot-long space station would be the country’s first semi-permanent space vehicle, holding up to eight crew members on typical 90-day missions.

For such long stays in space, NASA has decided that crew members require more than the likes of dehydrated peas and water-injected potatoes.

McDonnell Douglas’ immediate role is to design a kitchen that would, for the first time, give crew members the ability to prepare meals in space. Today’s space shuttle astronauts eat mostly dehydrated foods. But the proposed kitchen would allow astronauts to take frozen entrees from a specially designed freezer and pop them into specially designed microwave ovens.

Ah, just like home.

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Actually, home will be spinning about 200 miles below the space station. The key reason behind the costly kitchen is not to improve nutrition but to give crew members the psychological feeling of being at home, said Mahmoud Yakut, program manager for the kitchen project. “It should also help improve their productivity,” Yakut said.

At meal time, crew members will sit at a specially designed table and eat with modified knives and forks. Lockheed Corp. is studying the types of food that can be eaten at the unusual station.

When the meal is over, there will be little arguing over who washes the dishes. McDonnell Douglas is also designing a dishwasher. That represents the toughest task, Yakut said, because it requires the use of water--a difficult substance to handle in the weightlessness of space. The company is also designing a trash compactor that will reduce garbage to one-tenth its original volume.

All the appliances will be powered by a 75-kilowatt solar cell power station attached to the space station, Yakut said. The typical home requires about two or three kilowatts.

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Some of the devices are expected to be tested initially on future space shuttle missions, said Jeff Fister, a McDonnell Douglas spokesman.


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