Thai ‘space food’ experiment

A researcher intent on developing Thai food into a space food for astronauts was puzzled last week when he sent a meal 22 miles into the atmosphere by high-altitude balloon only for it to return to earth with the food box opened and the meal gone.

The experiment was a first for Thailand. Researchers had worked with dirigibles but never sent a high-altitude balloon into the stratosphere. The Kingdom’s Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (GISTDA) oversaw the experiment in which the balloon returned to earth safely if not securely.

“Sending balloons that high into the atmosphere for space science has never taken place in Thailand,” said Tatiya Chuentrakul, Vice Director of GISTDA. “It is the country’s first and it marks the beginning of the space experiment platform. It can lead to new ideas and innovations.”

Amarin Pimnoo, a GISTDA engineer, said that the experiment was designed to study the effects of high altitudes on nutrients. And so, the scientists had the balloon carry a box of “pad kaprao” or stir-fried holy basil (usually with the consumers’ choice of meat), a popular comfort Thai dish sold at countless street food stalls across the country.

Amarin added that the team chose pad krapao because it is delicious, affordable and easy to cook, adding that all kinds of Thai dishes should be studied in space. It is possible that Thai food could be developed as space food, Amarin said.

“Is our pad kaprao edible in space? Will any of the nutrients be destroyed or will they improve? Let’s wait for it,” he said, noting that high-altitude balloons have potential for further research projects. “The gist of this flight is that we have created the High-Altitude Experiment Platform.”

Amarin and his team may have to wait until next time, however, to determine the results because this time the food went missing. They had no immediate explanation for how the box was opened and what happened to the pad kaprao.

That will lead to more research and advancements in this field for Thailand.

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