Recently a nacho photo has surfaced unlike any other seen before on Earth, BECAUSE IT WAS NOT TAKEN ON THIS EARTHLY SPHERE! I wish I could tell you we received an alien transmission that when decoded turned out to be a photo of a plate of nachos on a distant planet under the light of two strange suns, but alas, we must stick with human photos for now. The picture in question was taken by Commander Chris Hadfield aboard the International Space Station and features a topping covered corn chip floating in zero gravity, or, if you don’t believe “The Conspiracy”, he’s just taking a photo of a chip he threw in the air to make it look like it was floating. Nachos in space. Man, nacho inventor Ignacio Anaya’s skeleton is probably shedding a tear of joy right now.
When Yuri Gagarin first went into space he had to suck down pureed meat and chocolate sauce out of toothpaste tubes, which, I don’t know about you, sounds delicious. It was originally even uncertain whether humans would be able to eat in space as the weightlessness could affect the whole swallowing process, but fortunately this turned out to not be the case. Early astronauts complained about the freeze-dried, chalky, pasty, overall gross tubes of food they were served, but over time the science of space meals progressed (except astronaut ice cream, never change old friend, never change) until now they can eat almost the same food as us common people back on Earth, although they have to eat it from bags.
There are numerous things that go into making a food “Space Ready”; palatability, ease of serving and cleaning up, weight, and nutrition for example, but how ready are nachos? We have a picture so they’re clearly doable, but not easily. Let’s break it down.
TASTE IN SPACE
Space is big. Really big. Vastly, hugely, mind bogglingly big. There are many mysteries about it, but it being big is one of the things we’re absolutely sure about. We also know, mainly due to the 1979 advertising campaign for the film Alien, that in space no one can hear you scream. Did you know however that in space no one can hear you taste either? It’s true, but this isn’t any different from here on Earth, unless you have a form of synesthesia that causes you to experience flavors as sounds, which is unlikely. The added cosmic bonus is that in space no one can taste your taste, not even you, as the longer you are in zero gravity the more your senses of taste and smell diminish.
Why exactly does this happen? Nobody knows for sure, not even our top taste and smell scientists, but the general consensus is that it has something to do with the whole gravity thing, being that there is none. The thought is that with no gravity to keep your bodily fluids down in your lower extremities they float around inside your body, making you feel like you have a cold, and if early Greek physicians are to be believed, generally disrupting your four humors.
Fun fact, if this whole gravity-messing-up-your-fluids thing pans out it could mean that food may taste differently on other planets depending on their gravity and how it affects humans. So while on Earth nachos may be the tastiest of foods, on Jupiter that may not be the case. Science! You don’t even want to know how changes in gravity affect your digestive system. More disgusting science!
Anyhow, you feeling like you have a head cold reduces your senses of smell and taste, limiting the flavors you can experience to the extremes of sweet, sour, and spiciness. Since a Jalapeno and Sour Patch Kid Stir Fry exists only in my dreams, astronauts typically try and get their flavor fix from hot sauces, especially Tabasco Sauce, the official sauce of the space program. This saucy tradition probably grew out of the abundance of hot sauces in Texas where the majority of astronauts started out training as fighter pilots back in their youth. History! Sucking down a bottle of Sweet and Sour Sauce would probably also have the same effect, so heads up Kikkoman, branch out to cash in on Chinese taikonauts!
VERDICT: Nachos are spicy and delicious, a definite bonus for an astronaut who can really only taste extremes in flavor. Palatability Point: Nachos.
FOOD FORMS IN SPACE
Space food is easiest served in three forms. One: Things that can be consumed in one bite, think crackers or M&M’s. Two: Things that can be sucked out of a bag; think Capri Sun or the space equivalent, Tang Sun (Who is also one of the fiercest of Mortal Kombat competitors). Three: Things in paste form; think chocolate sauce or meat puree/paste.
Now think about nachos. Sure, you can probably fit a chip with cheese and a jalapeno slice into your mouth, but putting them all together into a pile of nachos requires gravity, something sorely lacking in our current era of space stations. On Earth you grab a handful of chips, drop on a handful of shredded cheese and some jalapeno slices, but “drop” is an impossible verb in space and what you have then is handfuls of the makings of nachos floating around the capsule with you. From there it’s only a matter of time before a jalapeno ends up in a, instrument vital for the station to remain in orbit and the acid eats through a component and sends you plummeting to Earth, burning you alive while you asphyxiate. Not the death by nachos you hoped for.
VERDICT: The traditional pile-of-chips Anayan style nachos would never work in space due to the lack of gravity, but the single serving style nacho chip from the picture using the mushroom pate as the glue to hold the toppings together could. This however is not a true order of nachos. Ease of Serving and Cleaning Up Point: Not Nachos.
WEIGHT IN SPACE
“Hold on, didn’t you just go on about the weightlessness of space?” I sure did! Weight in space is fine as without gravity it is unimportant, but things still have weight until they get up there, and that’s where the trouble arises. Here on this Earthly Sphere a pound of nachos will run you around $7 to $12 depending on where you go. Even the raw ingredients of the classic Anayan nachos will go for about $6 at the store, but that’s here where the Earth growing and transporting costs are included in the price. To get these ingredients to space is quite a bit more.
Using the traditional Shuttle the price to get one pound (0.453592 kg for our metric friends) of something up into space runs about $10,000, which makes the $6 of conventional ingredients cost a lot more. The only thing that could rival them as being the most expensive nachos in history would be the current world’s largest nacho record holder at 4,689 lbs, or almost $47 million if brought to space. $10k for a pound of nachos in space is completely crazy, but don’t worry, there is a hero out there with a quest to rectify this.
Elon Musk, co-founder of Tesla Motors and PayPal, is the founder of SpaceX, a private company seeking to get stuff into space via rockets for cheaper, because we don’t yet have space elevator technology, and you’re not even going to get me started on that flight of fancy. With their current rockets they are able to put things in orbit for about two to three thousand dollars a pound, but with their new Falcon Heavy rocket they should be able to lift a pound for around one thousand dollars. Sure, a thousand dollars for nachos isn’t cheap, but it’s a lot better than ten grand. Musk’s long term plan is to get transportation to well under $100 a pound, which would still be unreasonable on Earth but not so crazy for nachos in space.
VERDICT: While astronauts may be sucking food out of bags, since for the most part low quality food weighs the same as high quality food they are typically given the best versions of whatever they are eating. So while nachos may be made of the finest of corn chips, the choicest of cheeses and the freshest of jalapenos a full sized order is not cost effective at this time. Weight Point: Not Nachos.
NUTRITION IN SPACE
By no stretch of the imagination are nachos nutritious. When it comes to calories, fat and sodium they’re off the charts, while healthwise they hardly register on those same charts. Anything that could be construed as “healthy” in regards to nachos would have to do with the toppings that are put on them, vegetables for vitamins and minerals, meat for protein, but neither of these can offset the general unhealthiness of the overall dish. You might as well just be eating slices of cheesecake healthwise, except nachos would take longer to give you diabetes.
Nachos do have two things going for them however. Firstly, NASA has the creation of both shelf stable tortillas and condiments down pat, so acceptable chips and some toppings should be able to be produced that meet their nutritional standards. Secondly, the extended weightless not only reduces an astronauts smell and taste but also their bone density as they don’t get too much of a workout trapped in a giant metal tube. The dairy content of the cheese could definitely counteract this to some degree, both by the calcium helping the bones and the general making humans fat, which would add some weight to the workouts the they do have. Not a particularly positive option.
VERDICT: Unless you are burning thousands of calories a day you shouldn’t be consuming nachos on a regular basis, especially when you are just floating around in space. Even then they’re not so much “nutritious” as just “calorie replenishing”. Nutrition Point: Not Nachos.
NACHOS IN SPACE
So the end tally is three to one against nachos. Does this mean there should be no nachos in space? On paper, yes, but there are some overriding factors. Now that humans have gotten a handle on this whole space flight and space food thing, the meals not only serve as a way to energize astronauts bodies, but also to show off cultural identity. We all know that nachos are Mexican, but Mexico didn’t establish a space program, La Agencia Espacial Mexicana, until 2010, so it’ll be some time before they’re up there. The US has embraced this food from the South and while not as high up there on the Bald Eagle Scale of Americanness as Apple Pie, it has become very Americanized. The International Space Agency also allows for certain special food exceptions on the behalf of the astronauts unless otherwise vetoed, such as when Swedish astronaut Christer Fuglesang was not allowed to bring reindeer jerky with him on a mission as the Americans felt such a thing so close to Christmas was beyond the pale, forcing him to instead bring moose jerky. All that being said, you’re never going to get a conventional plate of nachos into space and the half assed single chip thing is the best you’ll ever be able to do. Or is it?
So what would the next best thing be? Well, imagine your favorite nachos, and now imagine smashing them into a gooey mess. The result is a chippy, cheesy, toppingy sort of gruel, the likes of which you might find at the bottom of a plate of nachos you had eaten most of. Depending on the greasiness of these remains you may think they’re the best of worst part of your Earthly plate, but it’s just the sort of thing you could squeeze into a vacuum sealed tube and shoot into space. Indeed, if you took the absolute finest quality ingredients for this mixture, as NASA does with their food, and heated it up just right, the results would definitely be palatable, easily served and cleaned up, weight appropriate, but still not nutritious. If Meatloaf thinks two outta three ain’t bad, he’d definitely approve of three out of four.
Sure, you could call sucking down a tube of the highest quality nacho goop nachos, but you wouldn’t call a puree of ground sirloin a steak. Perhaps it is best to leave some things in space (Killer asteroids, aliens, black holes, the sun) and some things on Earth, like nachos. Sitting down at a table and being able to leisurely pick away at a pile of chips, cheese, and toppings is a much better experience, no matter how tasty that goop is, so don’t do it. Worry not astronauts, while you are up there exploding the heavens, there’ll will always be plenty of nachos waiting for you here on Earth for your return.