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January 11, 2005
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Astronauts on Candy Diet After Pantry Raided

The American pastime of overeating is going international in, of all places, outer space. 

The International Space Station is supposed to be a place where scientists from different countries can put their national hang-ups behind them and get on with the noble work at hand.  But it seems that the folks at ground control neglected to send the memo informing visiting astronauts that their successors would be better able to conduct reliable experiments, not to mention ever so grateful, without quite so much corn syrup and artificial sweeteners in their diet.  Unfortunately the crew that just came down had to subsist on candy for five weeks when the crew before them, demonstrating a shocking lack of self-control, not to mention sloppy record-keeping, plowed through their allotment of chow then marched straightaway into the munchies that
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had been set aside for their successors, all of this without a single “Houston, we have a problem” or even a Post-It on the mess-hatch.

AP reports that the deprived crew, consisting of two Americans and two Russians, took things pretty much in stride.  One of the American astronauts, Leroy Chiao, likened the experience to a space age sleepover, “kind of a challenge, kind of a camping adventure, roughing it, I guess.”  Golly gee - that’s the spirit!  Well, sort of.  Sitting around scarfing down sweets in zero gravity is the ultimate paradise for American super-sizers.  Chiao further described the “not an unhealthy diet, but not an ideal diet.”  Very tactful.  I suppose it pays to have refined diplomatic skills in deep space, where you often find yourself in the prolonged company of foreign nationals. 

No word on how the Russians reacted to the gluttony of their forebears, but they no doubt have come to expect far worse from their American fellow-travelers.  The real hard-core Americans have been known to fart shamelessly in zero gravity, a particularly noxious habit in confined spaces with limited ventilation (e.g., a space station, irrespective of its international delusions of grandeur).

Ultimately, though, it was the Russians who acted and made arrangements for a rendezvous from a supply ship that brought out another 2.5 tons of grub.  These guys were really running low!  One final indignity for the Americans.  AP reports that “had the supply ship been delayed significantly, the astronauts would have had to cut short their six-month mission and return to Earth aboard a Soyuz capsule docked at the station.” 

Coming home early is one obvious solution to the problem, but I can think of some others:

Space-Age Polymers – Next generation pseudo-organic polymers can be synthesized to provide hungry astronauts with sustenance when greedy predecessors let them down.  Why not plan to construct the cabin of the next space station, including furnishings, out of just such materials?  Not exactly a hearty meal, but better than the alternative.  The long-term prospects for astronauts caught in this predicament are not encouraging.  Once they’ve consumed they’re orbital habitat they have nothing to look forward to except a long, lonely drift in solo orbit.  Back to the drawing board.
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The Outer Space Diet – I’m reading about all these fad diets that folks pledge to inflict on themselves.  Lately they haven’t involved much in the way of sacrifice, choosing instead to substitute for unsavory whole grains and vegetables the naturally slimming properties of various foods that had previously been considered strictly off limits to the calorie conscious.  Bacon.  Cheese.  Eggs.  All OK now.  Go figure.  What’s missing is the element of necessity and accompanying discipline imposed by a bare pantry.  These guys were complaining about having to fill up on sweets.  I predict that, absent early reentry as an option, these guys would have very quickly found a way to ration their remaining foodstuffs to support a 500 calorie diet.  That’s about one Hershey bar a day.  Not comfortable, but how many calories do you really need to float around?
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Cannibalism – Shipmates can look mighty tasty after weeks of a harsh, relentless starvation diet.  I predict the two Americans, who will eat anything, would conspire to select the more toothsome Russian and negotiate with his compatriot to make a meal of him.  This could lead to quite a struggle depending on the physical condition of the target, but Americans are the first to know that lean meat is usually tough, so they would doubtless select the Russkie with less physical conditioning.  Lesson:  Know your food groups
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