Alabama students craft meal NASA will send to astronauts aboard International Space Station
An Alabama high school team has won a nationwide competition that will see a meal they created sent to astronauts in space.
NASA’s HUNCH program, which stands for “High school students United with NASA to Create Hardware,” created a culinary competition five years ago to involve high school students in the creation of new recipes to feed astronauts on the International Space Station.
A release from NASA on Thursday explained, “It takes complicated math and amazing feats of technical engineering to get astronauts into space, but more than just rocket science goes into keeping the astronauts alive and healthy on the International Space Station. Maintaining a healthy diet of food that maintains its nutritious value in microgravity is also important, and it helps if the food tastes good too.”
The HUNCH program’s 2020 culinary competition saw 54 teams from across the United States participate, which is a significant increase from only five years ago.
“It started small,” advised Bob Zeek, who co-founded HUNCH and is project resource manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. “We had seven schools the first year.”
The competition consists of two stages: a regional competition and then a final cook-off that normally takes place at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to be judged by its food lab personnel, astronauts and representatives from the space station program office.
The students are also judged on a final technical paper and a two-minute video, in addition to their entrée. The judges rate the food based on a sensory evaluation sheet that focuses on texture, taste, smell and appearance. The recipe must meet the nutritional content the food lab outlines and must process well for the microgravity environment of spaceflight. Schools compete within their regions, and the top 10 teams are chosen to make the trip to finals.
However, the final competition happened differently this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving the competitors needing to make several adjustments to their original plans. To follow CDC requirements, student finalists were not able to participate together, which forced them to adapt to new requirements, such as a greater emphasis put on their video and final paper.
The end-result was a team from Hewitt-Trussville High School — students Madeline Curd, Lucy Prince, Kailey Love, Abigail Mitchell, led by chef Anna Hallman — overcoming these unique circumstances to win the competition. This came after they advanced from regionals held at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville.
What meal would you cook for the @Space_Station?
— NASA Marshall (@NASA_Marshall) July 9, 2020
The theme for this year’s competition was ethnic dishes, and the Trussville team’s winning recipe was Moroccan chicken tagine.
“We thought Moroccan food would be a really good choice because a lot of people haven’t had Moroccan food,” commented Love. “We had a good feeling from the beginning.”
The food lab at Johnson Space Center will process the winning dish and send it to the station for astronauts to enjoy.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn