To say Chris Cassidy, commander of the orbiting laboratory, is a thrill-seeker is an understatement.
Like me, he has tried daring stunts out in the wilds of New Hampshire or on the lake side of Maine. His excitement follows him around like a constant.
At the speed of sound — which also works out to about 2.5 miles per second — he saw no reason to keep that dangerous habit.
On his most recent trip, it was kind of pepper.
“This is actually the first time I’ve chosen a pepper for my meal,” he told the Wall Street Journal.
If all goes according to plan, the astronauts’ meal should be the equivalent of one cooked on earth — peppers, peppers, more peppers — but the astronauts will get a little help with their food. The station’s outdoor cooking space is stocked with bags of used peppers and handles. They’ll also have some spare, pre-heat activated fire starters.
The crew requested spicy bell peppers from Mission Control. In a message to their social media followers, they hoped for somewhere between Florida, a state notorious for its growing climate, and Arizona, where peppers can be more spicy.
“There may be intense peppers that warrant heat rating,” mission controllers wrote on Wednesday, outlining the crew’s menu options. It was the first time the space agency had authorized new foods to be prepared on orbit, as further experiments increased the pressure to get the astronauts healthy for return to Earth.
This mission will last 16 days. Their space flight has been roughly 250 days. So what exactly does a mission commander eat?
“An astronaut’s meals are the equivalent of a high-end steakhouse meal, minus the need for a kicker to finish off a meal,” explained Ronald Owens, of the Humans 2 space program. “Most crew members choose red meat with occasional fish, cheese and vegetables.”
The goal of each mission is to get back to Earth in time for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, no matter the level of effort needed.
All these experiments are just for fun. However, there is a certain amount of pressure involved in being ready to make a conscious decision about your health and weight.
Think of the benefits to understand why Congress decided to end the ban on food in space. Food cannot stay frozen on orbit. Rather, it needs to be prepared on the ground for cold storage. How to preserve food on ISS is something researchers have been working on for years. The primary focus was figuring out how to store soft foods. Space is famously cold, making it difficult to preserve food that is actually edible.
The astronauts are scientists and astronauts, so what better to test the effects of prolonged weightlessness on the human body than on their food. (Not everything has to float. There are a few food items that do not need to be cold, including: canned vegetables, yogurt, fruit and beans.)
Cassidy, who’s an experienced and healthy climber, has done a couple of other stunts with the International Space Station. There is that thing where you get a phone call from someone at the space station and it’s just you and your friends and family and it’s a sort of moment.
On Thursday, he’ll take a stroll on a treadmill, will do some storage experiments, get a workout and do something called a food explorer. Because you know what that means. You survey the station for fresh food that could be used as a grub bucket.
In addition to the new crew, nine Russian cosmonauts were also welcomed to the station this week. They will be paired with the astronauts to tackle some basic maintenance tasks, save the space-trapped garbage, and test technologies that allow crew members to operate the space elevator.