Food and space: my two biggest fascinations of life. I love eating and stargazing. So it is no wonder I follow the space program fairly diligently. However, when my thoughts turn to space I think not so much about astronaut missions but more about what they ate for breakfast.

Cuisine aboard Space Shuttle STS-88 (ISS-01-2A) launched last December included delicacies such as mushroom soup; salmon with broccoli au gratin; fresh fruit and vegetables; trail mix; kona coffee; and other earthly delights -- a far cry from Pillsbury's Space Food Sticks of the 1960s. Remember that brown, chewy, tube-shaped, extruded "food" in pseudo-chocolate, banana or strawberry flavor, individually packaged in slightly off-white multi-layered material?

Applesauce in aluminum tubes and sugar cookies pressed into cube shapes coated in crumb-preventing gelatin were the first foods consumed by astronauts 35 years ago. Dehydrated foods and "spoonbowls" were launched during Apollo missions and the first freezer, refrigerator and food warmer launched with Skylab.

Today, continually evolving space food systems require tremendous crossfunctionality of process, package, nutrient and palatability parameters. Manufacturing processes include natural form, intermediate moisture, rehydratable, irradiated and thermostabilized. "Currently, NASA is evaluating issues such as carry-on fresh foods," says Vickie Kloeris, NASA substation manager shuttle food. "Future issues include refrigeration, five-year extended shelf life foods and 'biogenerating' food systems where plants and crops will grow in controlled environmental chambers on long-duration missions."

For more extraterrestrial intelligence on space food, production, nutrition and interstellar agriculture, check the following website: products/Space.Food.and.Nutrition