Humans are headed for the cosmos, and we’re taking our appetites with us. What will fill the void when we leave Earth behind?

Humans are headed for the cosmos, and we’re taking our appetites with us. What will fill the void when we leave Earth behind?

Coblentz also had weightier weightless recipes in mind. Many of Earth’s most deeply comforting foods rely on the byproducts of microbial digestion. Because metabolism works differently in microgravity, for microbes as well as humans, the resulting flavors might differ too. What would a wheel of space-aged Parmigiano-Reggiano, a loaf of space-risen sourdough bread, or a tube of space-fermented salami taste like? Coblentz is planning to send a batch of miso paste to the ISS later this year, to learn how its flavor profile changes. She has also developed a new way of consuming it. Pondering the station’s lack of cutlery, she struck upon the idea of creating silicone bonessolid, ivory-colored crescents that resemble oversize macaroni more than the ribs that inspired them. Nibbling and sucking foods directly off a silicone bone might reduce spoon fatigue, she explained, and perhaps even put spacefarers in touch with humanity’s most ancient foodways.
Coblentz has also considered sending brine into orbit, to evaporate into salt. As Phil Williams, who recently launched the world’s first astropharmacy research program at the University of Nottingham, told me recently, One of the problems of making crystals on Earth is that you have convective currents. Driven by gravity, these currents affect the quality of crystal growth. You can get far bigger crystals with fewer defects in microgravity, he said. Chefs and foodies already pay a premium for the large, hollow pyramids of Maldon sea salt, a shape preferred for its crunch, its intermittent bursts of saltiness, and its superior adhesion to baked goods. No one yet knows what culinary properties the crystalline perfection of space salt might possess. Many pharmaceuticals rely on crystallization too, and any alteration in those structures can change the drug’s therapeutic effects. There may one day be compounds that we can only make off-planet and bring back, Williams said, conjuring up a dazzling vision of the future in which drug factories and gourmet brine ponds orbit Earth.
In the weeks leading up to the parabolic flight, as Coblentz surveyed her prototypes, she decided she’d like to spend her precious moments in zero g actually eating stuff, not just fiddling with the spherification station. She would set aside time to inject a few test spheres, but for now she was more interested in replacing some of the ambiance, texture, and flavor that astronauts complain is missing aboard the ISS.
I’ve designed a special space food helmet and a tasting menu, she told me on our last call before we flew. Have a light breakfast.
As astronauts and entrepreneurs alike are fond of saying whenever something goes horribly wrong, space is hard. The same rule seemingly applied to MIT’s zero-gravity flight. Initially slated for March, it was delayed for months, owing to a government shutdown, scheduling conflicts, and then at the last minutewith all the passengers, including the silkworms, ready to gothe FAA’s refusal to recertify the plane until a single part was replaced. Finally, the morning dawned. I ate a quarter of a bagel, applied a motion-sickness patch, and boarded the team bus to ride up to an airstrip at Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire.
We gathered in a hangarlike space haphazardly furnished with plastic tables, folding chairs, a metal detector, and an x-ray machine. Staff from Zero-G Corporation, the company operating the flight, issued us our blue onesies, complete with name badges, and our boarding passes. Flight ZG491 was scheduled to depart at 9 am.
As the passengers suited up and checked their experimental equipment one last time, the preflight briefing began. There would be no somersaults, no flipping, no spinning without permissionseriously, no horsing around of any kind.
Don’t look down, one staffer warned. You’ll feel like your eyeballs are falling out.
Don’t take off a ring and try to float it while you take a picture, said another. There’s still a wedding ring in there somewhere from the last guy that tried that.
After the briefing, I tried on Maggie Coblentz’s food helmet, a sort of giant plastic goldfish bowl with two hand holes carved out. It was injection-molded for me by people who make aquariums, she said. When you put it on, you’re in a world of your ownand it catches crumbs. I’ve tried it in bed. There was a built-in lazy Susan on which she had mounted five small containers. I spotted boba pearls in one and Pop Rocks in another. The hardware was spray-painted an Instagram-friendly rose gold.
We went through our own private TSA security line, after which Coblentz handed me some contraband boba pearls. As a potential hazard to the equipment onboard, they were approved for flight only on the condition that they remain contained within her helmet. I didn’t have a helmet of my own, so I stashed them in my breast pocket, sealed it with velcro, and boarded the plane. Several rows of seats were installed at the back, and we sat and listened to a modified safety spiel. If the airplane lost pressure, we were told, oxygen masks would not drop automatically; instead, we would have to make our way over to the oxygen boxes mounted along the center aisle and walls. After a perfectly normal takeoff, the seat-belt sign switched off and we all moved forward to our appointed stations, next to the bolted-down equipment.

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