NASA astronaut Mark T. Vande Hei holds the record for the longest stretch of time spent in space by an American. During the 355 days he orbited earth, he learned about the importance of ‘food glue’, the thrill of eating an icy pole on orbit, and just how good an apple can taste
Hi Mark, after those 355 days, what was the first thing you ate when you got home?
It was actually on the NASA plane on the way back. I had guacamole and chips. How was it?
Oh, it was wonderful. The NASA doctor who made that guacamole – with fresh avocados (I’m not sure where they got them) – had never made guacamole or tasted it before! He got some help from one of the aircraft mechanics, advice on how to tweak it. But it was so good. Maybe it’s because I hadn’t had guacamole for at least 355 days, but I told him he was a guacamole savant.
What was the last Earth meal you ate before you headed up there? Did knowing you could be in space for ages give it special significance?
The last thing I ate was a very simple meal that the Russians serve you because they want to make sure that you’re pretty well... cleaned out, if that makes sense. It’s just in case you end up spending more time in a tight space.
When you’re preparing for a mission, do you try the food before you go?
Actually, yeah. So we have a standard menu on orbit – the Russians have a standard menu too – but we get to choose our crew preference items. Part of our preparation for the spaceflight is to go to the Food Lab at Johnson Space Center or a similar facility at the Gagarin Centre for training cosmonauts in Russia.You sample the different foods and decide what it is that you like.Then your favourites will get added. Sometimes, people use that extra capability to bring foods that they know their crewmates like, which is a really nice gesture. I wasn’t certain who I was going to launch with and I wasn’t able to do that but I was shocked at how many people had gone out of their way to pack foods that they knew their mates would like.
You got to pick your favourite things, but were there foods you really didn’t want to eat up there?
I don’t know of one thing that applies to the entire crew. Personally, I am mildly lactose intolerant so I would just avoid those foods.The ground did a great job of letting me know which ones had it and which ones didn’t. And then I just got good at picking out the foods that would work.
And was there one food that made you feel nostalgic for Earth?
Avocados. I just really like avocados.You can buy avocados in Russia where I spent a significant amount of time just before I launched but they are not the same type of avocados we get in the United States, which are fantastic.
I’m glad that you got your guacamole in the end.
It was wonderful. It really was.
This is an excerpt from issue 2 of Swill.