Tag Archives: Wednesday Word

How do you cook in space?

Update: Take our poll!

Which space meal sounds tastiest?
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Imagine this: you’re in space, and you’re hungry.  You’ve got ingredients and kitchen tools.  You think, why not cook up a nice meal?

How might that work out? Cooking in space is very different from cooking on Earth because, as you know, there is very little gravity in space.  While this may seem straightforward, the implications may not be obvious when it comes to cooking a meal.

Without gravity, it becomes impossible to pour liquids or shake powders into mixing bowls.  Chopping vegetables is tricky because pieces of food could fly off in random directions.  But it gets worse: apparently boiling water behaves differently in outer space than it does on Earth.  Bubbles do not percolate up and out of a boiling pot.  Rather, the entire mass of seething water pours out of the pot all at once, sort of like an exploding can of soda. Ouch!

Water boils differently in space (right pic) than it does on Earth (left pic). Credit: NASA
Water boils differently in space (right pic) than it does on Earth (left pic). Credit: NASA

It’s not all bad news though. Researchers have discovered that french fries taste better when prepared in environments with higher gravity. In other words, some foods will be tastier in space than they will on Earth.  Exploring space might lead to new culinary experiences!

Astronauts today eat the majority of their meals from pre-packaged, de-hydrated foil pouches. If eating all your meals from a foil pouch for months at a time sounds less-than-ideal, many astronauts would probably agree with you.  In fact, astronaut Sandra Magnus is famous for her extensive cooking experiments during her time on the International Space Station.

Sandra Magnus, Orbital Chef Extraordinaire. Credit: NASA
Sandra Magnus, Orbital Chef Extraordinaire. Credit: NASA

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling inspired.  Are you ready to cook that meal? Grab an onion and some duct tape and let’s get started!

Click here to get the Star Trek Cookbook!

Feature Image Credit: Pocket Books/Star Trek


Wednesday’s Word: What is the Space Launch System (SLS)?

Today we’re introducing a new type of post on This Orbital Life: Wednesday’s Word.  The space world has lots of technical jargon and weird acronyms.  So, in order to help you sort it all out, every Wednesday we will take one phrase or word or acronym and break it down.  Ready? Let’s go!

This week’s word is actually an acronym: SLS.

SLS = Space Launch System

The Space Launch System is America’s next big rocket.  We had Apollo, we had the Shuttle and soon we’ll have SLS.  And when I say big, I mean really big.  It will be the most powerful rocket ever built, able to launch 143 tons to orbit.  That’s more than five times what the massive Shuttle could haul.

SLS is big.
SLS (on the right) compared to other famous rockets. Payload is in metric tons.


It’s strength isn’t the only thing big about it: it’s price tag is also quite large.  It will cost at least $500 million every time you send an SLS up, but more likely closer to $2 billion.  For comparison, SpaceX’s new mega-rocket is estimated to cost a measly $90 million to launch 58 tons to orbit.

Cost is not the only controversial thing about the SLS.  Basically, NASA doesn’t know what it will use the SLS for.  I’m not kidding.  It’s being told by Congress to build this thing.  That’s why it is sometimes derided as the “Senate Launch System.”  NASA talks about using this rocket to go to Mars but it currently has no funding to do so.  So, the first launch will be in 2018 with plans for a follow-on launch…seven years later.  Two launches in seven years makes a lot of people ask if it’s worth building such a beast, absent any strong reason (and funding) to use it.

So now you know: SLS is the Space Launch System.  A really powerful, really expensive rocket that could probably take us to Mars if we had the funding to do so.