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Astronauts relish new Asian space food

by Staff Writers
Baikonur, Kazakhstan (AFP) April 10, 2008
When she docks with the International Space Station on Thursday, South Korea's first astronaut will bring a spicy Asian food menu that puts earlier space fare to shame.

Cinnamon tea, noodles and South Korea's beloved pickle dish kimchi -- all developed by a Korean institute to be bacteria-free -- are among the 10 menu items she will be eating and drinking during her 12-day mission.

Bringing ethnic cuisine to the final frontier, Yi even plans to hold a spicy South Korean party for her space station colleagues on Saturday.

Astronauts once complained of going hungry after being forced to suck food paste out of small aluminium tubes.

But advances in technology, and the growing number of countries sending their citizens into space, have enriched the space cuisine with new flavours.

Today "we can choose the food that we want," Sergei Volkov, Yi's captain on the Soyuz mission, told reporters at a press conference here on the eve of the launch. "The specialists try and make it as close to real food as possible."

And with Asia's economic giants striving to catch up with the more established space programmes of Russia and the United States, the new taste in space food is increasingly Asian.

Malaysia's first astronaut, Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, celebrated the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in 2007 by offering the ISS crew an array of Malaysian specialities, including mangoes and Malaysian-style satay.

"We really liked the Malaysian food. My favourite was dried mango," US astronaut Peggy Whitson said during a link-up with mission control.

Muszaphar said ahead of the launch that the food was milder than usual: "We've made sure it's not very spicy so the Russians can eat it very well."

When the first Chinese astronaut, Yang Liwei, flew into space in 2003, he brought with him Chinese herbal tea, shredded pork with garlic and marinated Kung Pao chicken to make him feel at home.

A cabinet at a space museum near the Russian-managed Baikonur launch pad, displays space food from another, blander era.

Aluminium tubes, tin cans and clear plastic bags with powders inside are marked with peeling labels reading "Cabbage soup" and "Russian mustard."

Tatyana Gavruchenko, space food specialist at the Birulevsky research institute outside Moscow insists the contents are actually delicious, and that only the Russians have food tailor-made depending on the astronaut's tastes.

"I think the Russian food is better but each to his own -- it also depends on habits and traditions," she said.

"The Americans like our soups, our borscht, biscuits and the puree with onions. Everyone's favourite dish is white cheese with nuts."

The institute produces around 200 food items, including traditional Russian black bread, a Central Asian rice dish called plov and cheese with nuts.

As he watched a Soyuz rocket being lifted into position in the middle of the arid Kazakh steppe for Yi's launch on Tuesday, former Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov admitted to being a little jealous of the new-fangled space food.

"The food now is completely different," said Vinogradov, who has spent a total of 380 days in space, mostly in the 1990s.

"We didn't complain then but we always wanted a bit more."

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All systems go for SKorea's space-ready kimchi
Seoul (AFP) Feb 13, 2008
A specially engineered version of kimchi, South Korea's beloved pickle dish, has been cleared for a historic space mission this year, officials said Wednesday.

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