NASA Food Scientist

By Sullivan, Megan | The Science Teacher, March 2006 | Go to article overview

NASA Food Scientist


Sullivan, Megan, The Science Teacher


Byline: Megan Sullivan

Bonus Points

Education:

BS, Chemistry; MS, Food Science; PhD, Food Chemistry; minors in Nutritional Biochemistry and Marketing

On the web:

Institute of Food Technologists (www.ift.org)

Related careers:

Inspection lab technician, nutritionist, research chef, food and drug lawyer

For most of us, food is almost always within reach. Food scientists make this convenience possible by using chemistry, engineering, biology, and nutrition to preserve, process, package, and deliver the foods we need. In space, food is not so easy to come by, which is why food scientist Michele Perchonok develops food for astronauts.At NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC),Perchonok's work has become more challenging as NASA plans and prepares for two-and-a-half to three-year Mars missions. Astronauts on these voyages will not only need prepackaged food, but also supplies that enable them to prepare real meals, process foods intoedible ingredients (e.g., wheat into wheat flour into bread), and even grow crops!

Describe this career.

In the JSC Space Food Systems Laboratory, food scientists develop products for the Space Shuttle, InternationalSpace Station, and Exploration programs. For the Space Shuttle and Space Station, we develop, produce, package, and write specifications forastronaut food products.Fueled by the Vision for Space Exploration, the NASA-wide Exploration program plans for future missions in our solar system, starting with the Moon, and followed by voyages to Mars. As part of this preparation, we evaluate new food packaging materials; develop recipes that use only a limitednumberof crops(e.g., soybeans, wheat, peanuts, vegetables, and fruits)and resupply items (e.g., dried milk, spices, and cocoa powder); determine how the acceptance of freeze-driedfoods and powdered drinks changes if the foods are rehydrated with hot,ambient, or cold water; and conduct shelf-life testing to determine how long the foods are acceptable and nutritious.

A shelf-life investigation might involve determining if athermally processed NASA food item has a shelf life of three years. The food is stored at a control temperature of 40[degrees]F (about 4[degrees]C), and also at 70[degrees]F and 95[degrees]F (approximately 21[degrees]C and 35[degrees]C) to determine how variations in temperature may affect the food quality in relation to the control. …

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