Starve and pickle: astronaut pizza connoisseurs celebrate space station’s anniversary

Revealing a fascinating photograph of the $100bn ISS at the Spheres Mission Control, astronauts pose with the peppers they picked

A day that began with a swirl of storms near the International Space Station ended with astronomers, pizza and astronauts.

Atlantis began the day at 31 miles above Earth, the orbit made possible only thanks to the $100bn International Space Station. To celebrate the occasion, the space agency’s astronauts celebrated with a photo and a little pizza.

And pico guacamole, too, in an area dubbed the Spheres. The station resembles a restaurant and astronauts also hold regular orbital parties to celebrate scientific discoveries such as the discovery of new worms in the ice crystals on the space station last year.

But NASA astronauts on the space station have never pickled their peppers before. They kept their 6,000 fresh peppers in a box for one day to let the sun make them soft and ready to crack open and eat.

In 2011, a former space station occupant named Gregg Crabbe tried to make pepper soup but was unable to.

To find the acme of conditions, astronauts can look at one of the compartments, also known as the cavity, of the space station. But “that light isn’t actually shining through, so a lot of the holes in the interior are big holes”, said NASA ISS flight engineer Kate Rubins.

Astronauts give several reasons for pulling the trigger.

The plan? To share a tweet with pizza, science and hibiscus.

Astronauts Kate Rubins and Steve Swanson hold spiciest pepper on Earth, Kate Rubins, as they eat the last jar of peppers left in an emergency food storage drawer on the International Space Station. Photograph: Nasa

“Me and Steve think it’s really neat that we can share a day of celebrating something that we have helped build,” Rubins said. “When we walk on the surface of Mars, you’ll actually be carrying a piece of the space station.”

Not just the space station, Rubins said, but it’s also an incredible accomplishment by NASA “that we have been able to accomplish this” in space.

“I think it’s so cool that so many researchers are benefitting from experiments in space. And even some of our engineers, when we get back to Earth, have trained on equipment on the International Space Station and they’re working on landing and landing safely on the surface of Mars.”

Stephen Swanson, who has been on the space station for three months, said it was a difficult decision to bring the remaining jars home, but “it was the right thing to do”.

“It’s the first time a scientific experiment will be conducted in space,” he said.

“It’s about doing science in a different way, and I think we’re going to learn a lot from this experiment, especially the way we do experiments, how we extract the information from the data and how to apply that information to future things in space,” Swanson said.

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