STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
The Astronaut diet differs just a little bit from the Mediterranean diet. There's not a lot of fresh fish or anything with crumbs and it has to have a long shelf life.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, Host:
We've been thinking of this as the shuttle Atlantis moves through its final mission.
VICKIE KLOERIS: My name is Vickie Kloeris. I'm a food scientist and I've been working with space food systems for almost 26 years.
LOUISE KELLY: Kloeris and her staff work at the Space Food Systems Laboratory at Johnson Space Center in Houston. There they plan, prepare and package the food for astronauts.
KLOERIS: We have grilled chicken. We have BBQ beef.
LOUISE KELLY: Foods you might cook up for your own dinner table. The space versions, however, are freeze-dried or thermostabilized - that means they're processed with heat like canned food.
INSKEEP: The Space Food Systems lab has developed about 60 different products for space. Kloeris says one favorite among the astronauts is shrimp cocktail.
KLOERIS: It's freeze-dried shrimp with a powdered sauce. And it has horseradish in the sauce so it has a nice little kick to it.
INSKEEP: Okay, not fresh fish, but spicy. The food lab has also produced some real bombs. Some of them too disgusting even for space food.
KLOERIS: We tried for a while to come up with a thermostabilized cheesecake in a pouch.
INSKEEP: Why didn't that work?
KLOERIS: We finally gave up on that because when we did the processing, the color that we came out with was not acceptable. It's just very, very dark in color. That would not very appetizing.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
INSKEEP: Unidentified People: (Singing) Wake up your day the astronauts' way. Wake up to the great new taste of Tang.
(SOUNDBITE OF COMMERCIAL)
INSKEEP: Astronauts are still consuming Tang in space.
LOUISE KELLY: Sadly, we cannot say the same thing for space ice cream.
KLOERIS: The ice cream does not fly. That's strictly done for the visitor centers and the museums. It flew one time during the Apollo program.
LOUISE KELLY: The American shuttle program may be ending, but Vickie Kloeris's job is not. She'll still be responsible for feeding astronauts on board the International Space Station.
KLOERIS: Our food lab here at Johnson Space Center is going to be as busy as ever. We're going to have three crew members to feed at least through 20-20.
INSKEEP: So they still have plenty of time to perfect, say, thermostabilized apple pie.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.