Astronaut launches space meal contest
- 2 May 2014
- From the section Science & Environment
British Astronaut Tim Peake has asked schoolchildren to create a meal for him to eat in space.
Major Peake has launched a competition to design a tasty meal for his mission to the International Space Station (ISS) next year.
The winning contestants will develop their ideas further with celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal.
The Judges will be looking for fun and healthy menus that have an element of "Britishness".
Major Peake tactfully told BBC News that some of the food on the ISS was not as "nice as it could be".
"It is nutritious but some of it is mushy, it lacks taste and texture," he eventually confided.
He wants school children to come up with something better, which he proposes to eat during his six month mission.
"You don't want a mushy paste. You want something with texture and a crunch to recreate some of the memories of eating food on planet Earth".
Much of the food sent up to the ISS is dehydrated and contained in vacuum packs to save space and weight. The crew then add water and often eat the food straight from the pack or suck gloopy mixtures through straws.
Astronauts often lose their sense of smell, which diminishes the sense of taste. This is because blood flows to their heads owing to the lack of gravity, and this causes their faces to swell and blocks their noses.
Spicy foods are therefore popular on the ISS, with the Russian crews in particular requesting ample supplies of hot sauce.
Use of salt is kept to a minimum because it inhibits bone formation in space and anything crumbly is strictly prohibited. Small particles can float out through the space station and get into the eyes of astronauts and into the machinery.
The competition is being organised by Jeremy Curtis of the UK Space Agency. He hopes that school-children will be able to reinvent the image of British cuisine through some stunning entries.
"We want Tim to be happy. We also want him to say to his international crew mates: 'Here is some British food' - and they'll say 'We've heard all about British food!' But we want to come up with something so good that they'll say - 'We like British Food. This is really good!'".
According to Mr Curtis, winning entries will be tasty, nutritious and have a British twist. But what does a "British twist" mean? He says that that is a question he would like to stimulate discussion in schools.
"They would work out what we meant by British food. It might be fish and chips but you could argue that those both come from France and the Netherlands. Curry, on the other hand, what could be more British than curry!?"
The winners will work with celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal, who will help them develop the overall eating experience, so that it is as close as possible to an enjoyable meal on Earth.
Major Peake told BBC News that Mr Blumenthal would bring a "wealth of experience" to the competition.
"On the ISS you have artificial lights, an artificial atmosphere and so eating a meal is one of those moments where you want that special link back to Earth and make it a special occasion," he explained.
The competition is open to classes, other groups such as after-school clubs, scouts, guides and individuals. There are two categories, one for primary level children and one for secondary level children, with one winner in each category.
Entries must be submitted by noon on 30 June 2014 to the UK Space Agency. Educational resources for teachers have been developed by the British Nutrition Foundation.