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New space food facility opens at Texas A&M

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station and the space shuttle soon will be dining on lasagna with meat sauce and other heat-processed food items made at Texas A&M University.

From left: Wyle Laboratories-Life Sciences Group Vice President Eugenia Bopp, JSC Deputy Director Bob Cabana, Texas A&M University Interim President Eddie Joe Davis, Texas A&M Vice Chancellor and Dean of Agriculture Elsa Murano, Texas A&M Vice Chancellor
From left: Wyle Laboratories-Life Sciences Group Vice President Eugenia Bopp, JSC Deputy Director Bob Cabana, Texas A&M University Interim President Eddie Joe Davis, Texas A&M Vice Chancellor and Dean of Agriculture Elsa Murano, Texas A&M Vice Chancellor
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Jan. 19 to open the new Space Food Research Facility on the Texas A&M University campus in College Station. Johnson Space Center Deputy Director Bob Cabana and astronaut Mike Fossum were among the NASA representatives at that ceremony. NASA, The Texas Agricultural Experiment Station and Wyle Laboratories joined forces to develop the facility.

While space foods are preserved using several methods, thermostabilized pouched food items represent about 40 percent of NASA’s current space food menu and include meat items, vegetables, rice, potatoes and desserts. Due to the limited availability of facilities nationwide that can produce pouched thermostabilized products, the Space Food Research Facility was established to provide NASA the capability to produce these products on a regular basis. This will assure a reliable supply of these foods for NASA's human spaceflight program.

“Access by NASA to facilities that can produce these pouched products has been extremely limited over the past few years due to the increased production of these items for the military as well as the commercial market,” said Lori Neish, Bioastronautics contractor and food scientist for the newly established Space Food Research Facility.

More than 30 thermostabilized food items will be produced in College Station for crew members. Food produced there will be specifically used on the International Space Station and throughout NASA's human spaceflight program.

A commercial retort system will help produce the thermostabilized food items which, unlike the traditional freeze-dried foods, already contain water. The retort system uses heat and pressure to kill pathogens and spoilage bacteria in the food so the packaged food is classified as commercially sterile and will have an extended shelf life without requiring refrigeration. Crew members simply heat up the thermostabilized foods in an oven in the shuttle's galley or in a suitcase-size warmer aboard the space station.

The food will be processed from start to finish in College Station. It will then be sent to Johnson Space Center for inspection and testing before heading to space.

"The food will be produced by a combination of Bioastronautics contractor personnel and student labor from Texas A&M University. This will provide the students with some hands-on food production experience,” said Neish.

The facility will be used by Texas A&M for education purposes as well. Research activities will extend to undergraduate and graduate food science students at Texas A&M, who will learn more about food processing practices.

Some of the first food items for space missions are expected to be produced in February.


Bill Jeffs
Johnson Space Center, Houston
281-483-5111

 
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