Image: Cooking in space
For Superbowl Sunday on the space station, Sandy Magnus came up with a beans and franks BBQ type of dish, along with a "space salsa," and a spinach dip.
updated 3/24/2009 6:21:55 PM ET 2009-03-24T22:21:55

NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus returns to Earth this week with a new skill honed during four months in weightlessness: orbital cooking.

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.

"In the end, it was a mediocre product since the original base dish already had an overwhelming flavor to it," Magnus wrote in a journal she kept of her cooking experiences.

Undeterred, Magnus pressed on, often spending her free time on Sunday cooking for her crewmates.

"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.

Among her more practical contributions to the culinary art of orbital cooking are tips for mixing (use sealed plastic bags), slicing (make large pieces) and keeping items in place (duct tape).

"Duct tape is useful," Magnus wrote in her journal. "You can set it out on the table with the sticky side up. This works for everything from trash to onion and garlic peelings and lemon peel. It does get messy but you can roll up the used tape with the stuff on it, throw it away, and get out a new strip."

Magnus got a few cooking tips from a former station commander, Peggy Whitson, who invented a way to cook the fresh garlic that regularly arrives on the Russian cargo ships.

"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."

Magnus used the concoction with other condiments to make two sauces for tuna -- one with cooked onions and honey mustard and the other with onions, garlic, ginger paste and mayonnaise.

"Both turned out to be quite good," Magnus wrote in a report on her cooking experiments.

For holiday meals, Magnus created a mesquite grilled tuna, crab salad and a cornbread-based stuffing.

Vickie Kloeris, who heads NASA's food lab at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, told Discovery News she thought all of Magnus' menus sounded interesting. "I'm always open to trying new things," Kloeris said.

"I think it shows a great deal of creativity," she added. "It also helps to reduce food waste by finding ways to jazz up some of the items that proved to be less favorites among her crew."

Magnus said she had fun learning how to cook in space, though it was very time-consuming.

With the station's crew expected to double in May from three to six residents, Magnus said a full-time cook would be greatly appreciated.

"It's a luxury," she said. "But maybe there will be other crewmembers who are interested in cooking as well."

© 2012 Discovery Channel


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