Houston, we have space sushi.
Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi may be far from home, but not from his country's trademark dish. He is making sushi in space while floating weightless aboard his current post on the International Space Station, and even wears a chef's hat while he does it.
In a demonstration, Noguchi held a piece of seaweed in one hand and used a spoon to nudge a floating clump of rice into it. With a few quick twists, he wrapped it all up in a neat roll.
"The first hand-rolled sushi in space, there you go," a proud Noguchi told Fuji TV reporters after making a sushi roll while floating inside the space station's Japanese-built Kibo laboratory. "It has salmon inside."
Noguchi made the sushi during a space-to-ground video interview with Fuji TV reporters on Wednesday. He spoke Japanese, with an interpreter on Earth providing an English translation.
"You have a gourmet cooking corner in your show, too, so I would actually like to cook here for you," he told them before wowing the reporters with his zero gravity culinary skill.
Food in space is a precious commodity for astronauts, particularly those living on the space station for up to six months at a time.
But since astronauts live in weightlessness, the food floats around like everything else. Shuttle astronauts, for example, use tortillas, powdered eggs and sausage patties to make space burritos. Bread, they said, leads to troublesome crumbs.
Noguchi has lived aboard the space station since December and is one of five astronauts from three countries staffing the orbiting laboratory. He represents the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Two Russians and two Americans round out the rest of the current crew.
Noguchi did not mention if he had any wasabi to go with his space sushi.
One astronaut, American Sunita Williams of NASA, took a tube of the spicy green condiment to the space station in 2007. But it got loose and stuck to the walls. The astronauts eventually condemned it to a cargo ship to avoid future spills, Williams said in televised interview at the time.
NASA's chief astronaut Peggy Whitson requested re-hydratable hamburger patties and dinner rolls during her last trip to the space station in late 2007. She made space hamburgers for her crew, and kept a steady supply of hot sauce in hand.
Astronaut Don Pettit, also of NASA, spent six months at the space station before returning to Earth 2003. When he returned in 2008 on a two-week space shuttle mission, he invented a zero gravity coffee cup so he could drink his beloved caffeinated beverage like he does on Earth, rather than through the ubiquitous straws that accompany most drinks in space.
In addition to cooking in space, Noguchi has been performing his normal science duties and sending home updates about his mission on Twitter, where he posts tweets as Astro_Soichi. He has cheered Japan's various national teams on during the ongoing 2010 Winter Olympics and donned homemade skis for a weightless ski jump last week.
He also has a reputation as a space shutterbug, and has been posting photos of cities, deserts and other stunning views of Earth from space on Twitter as well.
It was Noguchi who sent the first photo from the space station's new seven-window Cupola observation deck. He also caught a snapshot of the shuttle Endeavour re-entering Earth's atmosphere when it landed on Sunday night.
But this week was all about sushi for the astronaut. He offered it to his Fuji TV guests, even though they were 220 miles (354 km) below in Japan.
"For you, bon appétit!" said Noguchi.
Then he ate it himself.
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