The smoked turkey resembles sliced deli meat but stiffer, the candied yams are bland inside, the green beans taste like they’ve been microwaved to death, and the cornbread stuffing has a broth-heavy, institutional flavor.
Grandma’s home cooking, it’s not.
Then again, Grandma’s Thanksgiving dinners were never irradiated, freeze-dried, vacuum-packed into plastic pouches and then launched into space to be served 220 miles above Earth. That’s what the Turkey Day meals for the astronauts aboard space shuttle Endeavour have endured.
Endeavour’s seven astronauts and the three crew members at the International Space Station, where the shuttle is docked, will take a break from their chores and gather for their Thanksgiving meal today. The last time a space shuttle crew ate their holiday meal in space was six years ago.
“It gives us a moment to pause and reflect just how fortunate we are as a country and as global community,” Endeavour commander Christopher Ferguson said from the space station. “We’re thankful for that, in addition to the opportunity to fly in space.”
Although there were only six Thanksgiving meals prepared, Ferguson said not to worry. Astronauts were scraping together turkey from the space station pantry so everyone could experience space’s version of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, including the lone Russian, space station cosmonaut Yuri Lonchakov.
“Now we have enough food for everybody on board, which is part of Thanksgiving anyway, sharing what you have,” astronaut Stephen Bowen said Tuesday.
“It may be called space food, but . . . actually, it’s very good,” Ferguson said. Noting that many of the meals come from the military, he added, “I’m from the Navy, and I like Navy food, and I enjoy space food as well.”
He added: “We’ll have a true Thanksgiving feast.”
Instead of sitting at a large dinner table, the astronauts will float around as they eat.
The food pouches have Velcro tags that allow them to be attached to the astronauts’ suits. The food also can be fixed to Velcro patches on metallic food trays, which each have a spoon, fork, knife and scissors tethered to them for cutting open the pouches. The trays can then be strapped to the astronauts’ laps or attached to a wall.
NASA works hard to give the astronauts a varied menu. Even so, it’s hard to re-create the fresh tastes found on many Thanksgiving dinner tables.
“You lose those high notes of flavor,” said Michele Perchonok, who manages NASA’s food technology lab. “You’re not going to get those nice, herbal, spicy notes that are really fresh.”