French explorers Olivier Pezeron and Arnaud Fauvet enjoyed gourmet space food on their 20-day Greenland expedition this summer. The menu, prepared by a French chef for ESA astronauts, included delicacies such as sword fish, duck with capers and Thai chicken.
When they set out on their 600 km skiing expedition on 2 June from Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, space food was among the 100 kg of luggage stacked on the sledges they pulled behind them. The meals were prepared by the French gourmet house Alain Ducasse Formation (ADF) which is working with ESA to develop healthy and tasty dishes for human space missions.
"This expedition gave us another opportunity to have our space food evaluated by people under stress living in hostile environments similar to those experienced by astronauts," says Pierre Brisson, head of ESA's Technology Transfer and Promotion office.
In 2003 ESA gave rally driver Henri Pescarolo several cans of space food to try during the 2003 Dakar Rally. The menu included pasta, squid, duck confit with capers, and rice cake with caramel sauce. "Delicious," was Pescarolo's comment, after his 'space-dinner' in the Saharan desert at Siwa, Egypt.
Earlier this year, space food was served to the 12 women participating in the ESA/CNES 60-day bed-rest study at the MEDES (French Institute of Space Medicine and Physiology) space clinic in Toulouse. Their reaction was also positive.
"The challenge is to have a variety of good and nutritious food that also provides physiological support for astronauts living in space for a long time," says Brisson.
"In addition to aspects such as nutrition, conservation, packaging and weight, ease of preparation is also important."
Explaining the objective of these test dinners, he adds, "By trying out the food in hostile environments we can test it for both culinary value and practicality. This helps us improve the products for our astronauts.
"We all know that when times are tough a good meal can cheer you up. If our food can pass the 'exam' on the Greenland icecap, there's a good chance it can also cheer up astronauts living far away from Earth."
June's 600 km expedition was a tribute to the French polar explorer and ethnologist Paul-Emile Victor (1907-1995) who led more than 60 expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic regions.
In 1936 Paul-Emile Victor, together with Robert Gessain, Michel Ferez and Eigil Knuth, completed an 800-km crossing of Greenland at almost the same latitude as Olivier Pezeron and Arnaud Fauvet, crossing from west to east.
The two explorers started their crossing on 2 June from Kangerlussuaq on the west coast of Greenland and completed their expedition in 20 days and 5 hours, arriving on 23 June at Isortoq near Tasiilaq on Greenland's east coast.
When asked after completing the expedition their opinion of the space food Olivier Pezeron said: "It was excellent and gave the impression of a real home-cooked meal and it was really nice to have better food than the traditional meals we usually bring with us on an expedition. In particular I enjoyed the semolina dessert and the duck with capers."
"The crystallised carrots were also fantastic and the sword fish was very good," added Arnaud Fauvet.
The space meals were an addition to the calorie-heavy diet needed to supply strength and stamina while skiing across the Greenland icecap for 10 hours a day, often in strong winds and with temperatures always below minus 5° C.
"We calculated a menu based on 5400 calories a day for an estimated distance of 30 km per day. However, we consumed much more and in the last few days we opened two rations a day," explained Arnaud Fauvet.
"But that was not a problem as we completed the crossing in 10 days less than envisioned, so we had sufficient rations to compensate for the extra calories that we needed," noted Pezeron.
On 11 June bad weather hit the two explorers. The 110 km/h wind was against them and they only managed to progress 9 km after 10 hours of hard work, less than one kilometre each hour. "That night we decided to make a special dinner, a real 'space-meal' to cheer us up. It was truly good and gave us a needed moment of laughter and relaxation," Pezeron said.
"After this experience we are now ready to be candidates for a mission to the International Space Station and even for a flight to Mars, just as long as the food is as good as the meals prepared by the chefs of Alain Ducasse group," added the two explorers jokingly.