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Celebrity chef José Andrés is cooking for private Ax-1 astronauts

Axiom Space's first private crewed mission to the International Space Station is scheduled to launch on April 3, 2022. From left to right: pilot Larry Connor, mission commander and retired NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, mission specialist Mark Pathy and mission specialist Eytan Stibbe.
Axiom Space's first private crewed mission to the International Space Station is scheduled to launch on April 3, 2022. From left to right: pilot Larry Connor, mission commander and retired NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, mission specialist Mark Pathy and mission specialist Eytan Stibbe. (Image credit: Axiom Space)

The first all-private mission to the International Space Station will feature celebrity cuisine.

José Andrés, founder of the nonprofit World Central Kitchen that sends meals to areas beset by natural disasters, will cook for the first crew sent to orbit by Houston-based company Axiom Space.

The four members of the Ax-1 mission, scheduled to launch on a SpaceX Dragon capsule no earlier than April 3, will eat "paella, pisto con cerdo, jamón ibérico, marcona almonds and more," Andrés promised in a tweet (opens in new tab) posted on Wednesday (March 23).

"In times like these," Andrés added in another Wednesday tweet (opens in new tab), "we need to come together to remember our shared humanity. Believing in longer tables, believing in sharing, remembering we're part of the same planet. That's the spirit of the @Space_Station and the spirit of eating paella from the same pan."

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In a video he posted with one of the Wednesday tweets, Andrés noted that he was born on July 13, 1969 — just seven days before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin of Apollo 11 took humanity's first steps on the moon's surface. "Right there, right then, within days, boom! We put the foot on the moon," Andrés said in the video.

Andrés engaged a research and development team to get tasty space cuisine ready for the Ax-1 crew. The private spaceflyers will doubtless have a better menu on hand than the Apollo astronauts, who complained about the tasteless fare available in the 1960s and 1970s. (Today, NASA's much-improved menu has more than 200 items available (opens in new tab), with room for customization, but Andrés' team wanted to go further.)

"As a chef, my goal is to meet your palate's expectations for food," Charisse Grey, director of research and development at ThinkFoodGroup, the company behind the Andrés restaurants, said in the same video. 

"Helping him create a menu for space," Grey added of the collaboration with Andrés, "took a few days for me to really absorb what that meant — not just for me as an individual, but for what it would mean for José to have this really, really unique opportunity."

In a blog post (opens in new tab), Andrés said he thought about the theme of family as he worked to create signature Spanish flavors for Ax-1's orbital journey.

"The paella in particular was chosen so that the astronauts could enjoy a family meal, together, while above the clouds," the post stated. 

The signature dishes include chicken and mushroom paella (a famous rice dish in Spain) and secreto de cerdo with pisto, which the post describes as "a prized cut of Iberico Pork with tomatoes, onions, eggplant and peppers."

Other Mediterranean flavors will include jamón ibérico de bellota ("acorn-fed Iberian ham", according to Google Translate), ibérico salchicchon ("Iberian sausage"), Casas De Hualdo olive oil, and Marcona almonds from Barcelona chef Albert Adrià.

Andrés, who received the 2015 National Humanities Medal from the White House, said on Twitter that he sees space as a valuable forum for collaboration and inspiration.

"Some people are going to be saying, 'Before we send people to the stars, we should be fixing every problem on planet Earth.' I think it's the contrary," he said in the Twitter video. His dream, Andrés said, is to see humans on deep space missions to help solve "so many of the problems that we see on Earth today."

Andrés added that he is humbled to have been selected to cook for the Ax-1 mission, which will spend about eight days at the space station. "This makes me so very proud. To me, an astronaut equals freedom, because our universe has no boundaries."

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.