Spaghetti spaziali

Italian Astronaut Villadei Will Test Barilla New Tastes on ISS

This month Axiom will send a "sensorial experience" test to the ISS, along four astronauts, to develop research in partnership with Italian Pasta brand Barilla

After the rumors in the past year, its pasta will go into orbit for the first time. Barilla has announced its involvement, as part of a project in “new tastes”. This plan was born in collaboration between Barilla’s Research and Development team, ASI, the Italian Ministry of Agriculture, Aeronautica Militare, and Axiom Space.

The mission, scheduled for January 17, 2024, will launch into orbit 3kg of Barilla Fusilli payload. Destination ISS, the Axiom Space Ax-3 mission will bring four astronauts on board the Space Station. In this crew, there’s also Italian astronaut Walter Villadei, Colonel of the Italian Military Air Force and Mission Specialist of this project.

Colonel Valter Villadei, Aeronautica Militare Italiana Ax-3 new tastes mission
Axiom Space and Aeronautica Militare signed a contract on November 1, 2021, to launch Col. Villadei on the Axiom Ax-3 Mission. Credits: Axiom Space/Aeronautica Militare

The goal is always to test and experiment with food tastes, which in space require a “forcing” of flavor, due to sensory reduction of taste during weightless missions.

“Being part of this space mission makes us very proud and allows us to explore a new frontier of nutrition, allowing astronauts to feel at home,” said Paolo Barilla, Vice President of the Barilla Group, enthusiastic about this new collaboration.


The “sensory” experience

During the mission, astronaut Villadei will involve other ISS crew members in carrying out new tastes sensory experiments, thus understanding the needs related to astronauts’ nutrition in extreme conditions.

AI-Generated image: Ax-3 new tastes mission with Barilla's Fusilli
AI-Generated image: Ax-3 new tastes mission with Barilla’s Fusilli

In weightlessness, the food experience and the perception of flavors are reduced. Barilla accepted the challenge of this unique environment with its pasta, 3kg of fusilli in this case. A traditional food product, that reopens the door to high nutritional and energy value and doesn’t lose its quality.

In microgravity, boiling pasta is impossible. The Fusilli Barilla into space is therefore already cooked and ready to be heated and enjoyed. The “Pasta in Space” project supports the candidacy of Italian cuisine as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Cristina Gallina, Barilla’s global discovery director: “We have implemented a process to ensure perfect consistency. In this way, pasta will be pleasant when chewed. So astronauts will eat the top of the taste experience of an excellent Italian pasta dish all over the world.”


The basic rules are always the same

Food in space must follow strict rules, studied over decades of experience. Nutritional needs aim to minimize energy, metabolic, and anatomical-physiological losses during a space mission, as well as guaranteeing the health of the astronauts. New tastes will be under the same rules.

In collaboration with ESA and other affiliated agencies, NASA is also implementing “food endurance”. It’s a plan to preserve food in space, more than the actual 18 months of shelf life to the goal of 5 years and more.

This would be granted thanks to the food thermostabilization process and in-situ cultivations, essentially with an orbital garden. Among the ten crops being studied and candidates for this purpose are lettuce, strawberries, cabbage, pepper, fresh herbs, radishes, green onions, tomatoes, carrots, and spinach.

Who already has extensive knowledge of Space Food in Italy?

If Barilla begins its experience in collaboration with ASI – Italian Space Agency – and the Italian Air Force, who has greater experience in Italy?

ESA has been in partnership with ALTEC of Turin for some time in the space food project and has vast experience in food safety, widely presented, discussed, and debated in numerous venues and scientific meetings.

To better understand what and how astronauts eat in space, we asked a leading figure who deals with space food. She is Liliana Ravagnolo, Mission Operation and Training Manager of ALTEC – Aerospace Logistics Technology Engineering Company, the Italian company that ESA has chosen for the management of food logistics in space missions.

“Nutritional regulations and the balance between carbohydrates and proteins must certainly be respected. Standard food has been provided by NASA and Roscosmos – space government agencies of the USA and Russia respectively – with around 400 international recipes that astronauts taste during training on Earth, to choose and bring on board”.

— Liliana Ravagnolo, Mission Operation and Training Manager of ALTEC

Between personal tastes and gluttony, there is even a “bonus food” menu. “It’s what we collaborate on, it’s what the astronauts share, with which they have themed dinners,” says Ravagnolo. “It represents 15-20% of the total supply” allocated in nine mini CTBs (Cargo Transfer Bags), each no larger than a laptop.

“Let’s understand each other well. ALTEC does not directly produce the food. Those recipes are the responsibility of the chefs representing the local cuisines. ALTEC makes sure everything meets NASA safety requirements. No added salt, for example, to avoid blood circulation problems due to microgravity.”

— Liliana Ravagnolo, Mission Operation and Training Manager of ALTEC

Last 19 December, Liliana Ravagnolo has been prized as “Donna d’Eccellenza 2023”. The prize has been assigned for her human and technical contribution to the World Economy Development Sector. The sector is one of the most promising in the coming decades.


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Stefano Mossa

Stefano Mossa

I'm a multi-discipline active: Veterinary doctor with passion for astronomic sciences and sci-fi writer for fun. Administrator of SPF TV Astronomy Channel on You Tube and SPF - Spazio Penultima Frontiera in Facebook. FedarMoss CEO... and a past as Football trainer 27 years career. Now I'm also blogger for Space Voyaging. It's hard for me to stop.

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