Astronaut Sandra Magnus Cooks in Zero Gravity

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Food for astronauts working aboard the International Space Station usually come precooked and packaged in such a way so that it can be eaten in microgravity without making a huge mess. But when NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus joined the crew of the International Space Station as part of Expedition 18 in November 2008, she decided that food should be an important part of the mission.

It started innocently enough: She took a can of Russian chicken with vegetables and added olives, sun-dried tomatoes and pesto paste. The result left a bit to be desired, but she found what she wanted to do with her spare time.

Magnus was equipped with very little compared to what you’d find in an ordinary kitchen. She relied on a dull pocket knife, some zip-lock bags and duct tape to prepare most of her dishes. To prevent chopped vegetables from floating away she set a strip of duct tape on the table, sticky side up and dumped the pieces into it. “This works for everything from trash to onion and garlic peelings and lemon peel,” she writes in her journal.

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Astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Sandra Magnus, both STS-126 mission specialists, are pictured with fresh fruit floating freely on the middeck of Space Shuttle Endeavour

She was also lacking fresh ingredients, such as fresh greens, fruit or real milk and eggs. Magnus said she planned ahead with the food labs to get most of what she wanted for her cooking experiments on board the station. The astronauts are on a 16-day menu cycle said Vickie Kloeris, manager of ISS food systems. The menu was a mixture of Russian and American foods for ISS and each astronaut made selections from a pre-approved menu before the mission, Kloeris said. The astronauts had the opportunity to take up some extra supplies in their bonus container, but the contents still had to meet the shelf-life requirements of the regular menu items, Kloeris added.

Cooking meals on the ISS takes a long time. Magnus describes cooking onions in the station’s Russian food warmer for up to four hours until they were just right. NASA shuttle food system manager Michele Perchonok said that astronauts typically don’t do much hands-on cooking because of the amount of time and effort required, as well as the potential for mess. Magnus, she said, planned well in advance to make sure she had the right amount of oil and garlic in space.

"To prepare garlic, and I have added onions to the mix, you keep some of the foil packets that the Russian dehydrated food comes in, put the garlic and chopped onion (large pieces) in the foil, squirt in some olive oil, fold the foil over to fit into the food warmer and turn it on," Magnus writes. "The warmer only works for 30 minutes or so, so every half hour you have to come in and turn it on again. After about four or five cycles, you have cooked garlic and onions."

For Christmas, Magnus and her crewmates made holiday-themed cookies. For the Super Bowl, she whipped up space salsa with sun-dried tomatoes, an ad hoc barbeque from baked beans and breakfast sausage links and chopped onions, and a dip made of cream of mushroom soup and creamed spinach.

"Whenever I cook, I know the guys enjoy just the different flavors and the different flavor combinations that I came up with," Magnus said during an in-flight interview.

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3 Feb. 2009 - Astronaut Sandra Magnus and cosmonaut Yury Lonchakov, both Expedition 18 flight engineers, works with food storage containers in the Zvezda Service Module of the International Space Station.

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1 Feb. 2009 --- Astronaut Sandra Magnus, Expedition 18 flight engineer, prepares to eat a meal at the galley in the Zvezda Service Module of the International Space Station.

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7 Jan. 2009 --- Astronaut Sandra Magnus, Expedition 18 flight engineer, poses for a photo while holding food pouches near the galley in the Zvezda Service Module of the International Space Station.

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7 Jan. 2009 --- Astronaut Sandra Magnus, Expedition 18 flight engineer, prepares to eat a meal at the galley in the Zvezda Service Module of the International Space Station.

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1 Dec. 2008 --- Astronaut Sandra Magnus, Expedition 18 flight engineer, is pictured near a bag of fresh fruit floating freely in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station.

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25 Dec. 2008 --- Astronaut Sandra Magnus, Expedition 18 flight engineer, prepares to eat a Christmas meal at the galley in the Zvezda Service Module of the International Space Station.

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4 March 2009 --- Astronaut Sandra Magnus, Expedition 18 flight engineer, eats a meal in the Zvezda Service Module of the International Space Station.

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Tacos in space. 1 Jan. 2009 --- Astronaut Sandra Magnus, Expedition 18 flight engineer, poses for a photo with food which she prepared at the galley in the Zvezda Service Module of the International Space Station.

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23 Dec. 2008 --- Astronaut Sandra Magnus, Expedition 18 flight engineer, floats between two Russian Orlan spacesuits with Santa hats in the Harmony node of the International Space Station.

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25 Dec. 2008 --- Astronauts Michael Fincke (left), Expedition 18 commander; Sandra Magnus and cosmonaut Yury Lonchakov, both flight engineers, pose for a photo as they prepare to share a Christmas meal at the galley in the Zvezda Service Module of the International Space Station.

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Sources: 1, 2, 3

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