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Space station suffers 'wasabi spill'

Astronauts are always on guard against toxic spills that could contaminate the international space station.
Space Shuttle Discovery Crew Holds Press Conference
Sunita Williams will begin a six-month stint at the international space station.Matt Stroshane / Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

Astronauts are always on guard against toxic spills that could contaminate the international space station.

But there is nothing in their training manuals about how to clean up flying wasabi.

The spicy greenish condiment was squirted out of a tube while astronaut Sunita Williams was trying to make a pretend sushi meal with bag-packaged salmon. The three space station crew members are given a certain number of bonus packs of their favorite foods to help endure their months in space where most meals are the equivalent of military MREs.

Since everything is weightless, spilled food is no ordinary clean-up challenge.

"We finally got the wasabi smell out after it was flying around everywhere," Williams told her mother this week in a conversation arranged by Boston radio station WBZ. "We cleaned it up off the walls a little bit."

Williams, whose father was born in India, has several Indian dishes in her bonus container, including Punjabi kadhi with pakora — vegetable fritters topped with yogurt and curry — and mutter paneer, a curry dish. The dishes are packaged to have a long shelf life in space.

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Her U.S. crew mate, astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, is an even bigger "foodie." Lopez-Alegria, who was born in Madrid but grew up in California, had Spanish muffins known as magdalenas, chorizo pork sausage and latte in his bonus container.

"Psychologically, it's very important," space station dietitian Paula Hall said of the gourmet extras. "It's really important to have variety, to have surprises. It's important to have food that makes you happy, that makes you smile."

Unfortunately for Williams, the wasabi tube has been banished to a cargo vehicle where it will stay packed away.

"I don't think we're going to use it anymore," she said. "It's too dangerous."