The Sky is Not the Limit: Taking Sensory Into the Final Frontier

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November 14, 2017

by Erin Riddell



​What happens when you reach for the stars? The stars just might reach back.


This years SSP regional meeting was a collaboration between the Society for Sensory Professionals and NASA. Designed to not only get sensory professionals to think out of the box, but out of this world, the meeting revolved around a presentation by Dr. Grace Douglas, Ph.D. the Lead Scientist for Advanced Food Technology at the NASA Johnson Space Center. Dr. Douglas gave a fascinating overview of the challenges her program has in food production, and acceptability testing with the astronauts of the space program.

From the first food consumed in space (fyi – it was John Glenn eating applesauce in orbit) to the “gourmet” meals of the Mir Space Station, to the current fare served to residents of the International Space Station, supplying crew members with nutritious, palatable, portable, storable food is fraught with difficulty. With no freezers and limited refrigeration currently available in space, crews must not only have access to supplies that can last for multi-year missions (like a predicted 5-year time frame for a trip to Mars), but that meet the special nutritional requirements the human body demands when working in space, adhere to severe weight and bulk limits, and fit the physical limitations of food served in space (think of all the crumbs floating around!) oh, and are acceptable to international palates too!


A challenge indeed.


This got the attendees at the conference thinking, both about how they would work with those obstacles, and how they could apply some of the information to their own work dilemmas.

The local New York/New Jersey chapter followed up the presentation with a hands-on activity – tasting a variety of “space food”– freeze-dried fruits, vegetables, and even ice cream. Their mission – determine how similar are these foods to the real thing, describe what’s different, discuss what could possibly be done to make the experience closer to the real life food, and how they could go about setting up a testing program for it.

And the discussion didn’t stop there. What about nonfood items like toothpaste, lotion, or body cleansers? What about the packaging?

Facing so many limitations forced the group to think more creatively, and spurred conversations about new ways to approach testing.

Sensory.

The sensation frontier.

To explore new testing concepts, and new experiences.

To seek out new ways of evaluating, and new methodologies.

To boldly go where no sensory expert has gone before.

Erin Riddell is Sensory Manager at MMR NYC.