HOUSTON - When Coloradan Steve Swanson and two Russians blast off for the International Space Station, all three will be giving up earthbound pleasures in exchange for a once-in-a-lifetime scientific opportunity.
Scheduled for March 25, this will be Swanson's third trip to space and by far his longest. The Steamboat Springs High School and University of Colorado graduate helped to construct the ISS during two trips aboard the space shuttle, in 2007 and 2009.
From his previous experiences, Swanson knows the unique changes that come with visits to space. Going to the bathroom, for example, requires a vacuum hose and foods need to be specially packaged and selected.
-- After the Oscars Sunday, watch 7NEWS for an exclusive interview with Swanson about life in space and how he prepared to become commander of the ISS.
Swanson says his favorite space food is NASA's version of seafood etouffee. Because of the physical changes that astronauts undergo in space, his favorite food is spicy.
"Their ability to taste food changes in space. The way they taste food changes in space," said NASA food scientist Dr. Grace Douglas, who explained that fluids shift into astronaut's heads while they live in space.
The way astronauts taste food is comparable to the way people on Earth have a reduced sense of smell or taste during a head cold.
Swanson and his crewmates also face other culinary challenges related to weightlessness. Foods that break into crumbs easily, for example, would create a big mess as the crumbs float away.
A granola bar purchased for the space program is removed from its normal packaging and resealed inside two new layers. The inner layer is clear, form-fitting plastic that allows the crew to see if the food inside has broken. The outer layer is made of aluminum.
"These packages together greatly reduce the oxygen and moisture transfer into the food and they reduce rancidity," Douglas explained. "The foods that they eat in space are very much like the foods that we eat on Earth, they're just processed and packaged differently."