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UPDATE: Hill Country Students Win Contest To Feed Astronauts Aboard The International Space Station

A culinary student plates a dish.
The "Space Dawgs" at Burnet High School are a culinary team trying to make the best meals for NASA astronauts to eat aboard the International Space Station.

Update as of May 11:

The Burnet High School Space Dawgs culinary team finished in first place out of 10 schools to feed astronauts on the International Space Station.

Each student on the team will receive a full-ride scholarship opportunity. Burnet High School will also receive $1,000 for its culinary program.

Previous reporting on April 21:

A culinary arts team from a Texas Hill Country high school is one of only 10 in the nation to compete in a NASA contest to create an out-of-this-world dish for astronauts to eat aboard the International Space Station.

Students in Chef Mike Erickson's culinary arts class at Burnet High School had to create a dish that was tasty and meets NASA requirements.

They call their culinary team the Space Dawgs, a play on the school's mascot, a bulldog.

So, what earthly dish did they select to tweak for a ride into space? Space Dawg Jacey Huston said the dish they selected was inspired by her trip overseas to one of the world's culinary hotspots.

"I visited Italy and that gave me a new appreciation for that culture and especially their food, which gave me the inspiration to do one of their comfort foods, which is Creamy Chicken Francese," she said.

But Houston, we have a problem.

The dish is made on Earth with cream and pasta and salt, three things NASA does not allow because of how space affects ingredients, as well as the nutritional standards and requirements for astronauts.

"We had to put a lot of work into changing up the recipe to make it meet the requirements for this project, like changing the heavy cream to half-and-half, changing the salt content, and doing a lot to the sauce to still give it that creamy texture," Huston said.

And zucchini noodles replaced the pasta.

 The Burent High School Space Dawgs pose in front of a plane.
The Burnet High School Space Dawgs is one of only 10 schools in the nation competing to feed NASA astronauts.

Another problem facing the students is how to spice things up. Many astronauts say food tastes bland in space. Student Bridget Bristow is another Space Dawg.

"We had to look into many different ways to enhance flavors rather than add more salt or more cream so we looked to oleo resins, which we would use parsley oleo resins, lemon oleo resins in order to enhance flavors that may be lost during the preservation process," she said.

The theories behind why food is bland in space vary. NASA blames it on "stuffy head" which results from microgravity and blood collecting in the upper body. Some astronauts think its because the food is stored so long before it is eaten. Others think its because they eat the same foods over and over. The menu is repeated every eight days aboard the International Space Station.

Space Dawg Matthew Thrane said they also had to choose a storage method for the dish to be heated and eaten.

"We decided to go with our pouch, (which) is a sous-vide silicone pouch that can be heated to 400 degrees," said Thrane.

The additional Space Dawgs are Nicholai Rowland and Will Rundzehier.

The contest they are in is part of NASA's Hunch Program that gives high school students a chance to make items for the International Space Station.

If it were not for the pandemic, the students would have had a blast on a road trip to the Johnson Space Center in Houston to see their contest dish judged in person.

This year the judging will take place at Kentucky-based Sullivan University this Thursday. Their recipe will be prepared there by its culinary chefs and then judged by a panel, including astronauts.

The judges will also watch the students prepare the same dish live online. Winning students will receive scholarships to the university, known for its culinary arts program.

Thanks to videographer Phillip Malina of the Burnet Consolidated Independent School District for sound gathering for this story. And for transparency, general assignments reporter Brian Kirkpatrick is a graduate of Burnet High School.

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