Emirati astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri will host a food night for crew mates on board the International Space Station — offering canned and liquefied versions of the nation's best-loved dishes.
The air force fighter pilot will blast off for ISS on board a Russian Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft on September 25. He will be accompanied by Russian commander Oleg Skripochka and American astronaut Jessica Meir.
As The National reported last month, a Russian firm is producing halal food that can be sent to space in containers.
As he prepares for the landmark journey, Maj Al Mansouri, 35, and his backup astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, 38, have been trying Emirati dishes made by the Space Food Laboratory, which he will treat his ISS crew mates to during his eight-day stay on the station. Maj Mansouri will be dressed in the traditional Emirati clothes for the occasion.
The Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre said the dinner would mark the first time Khaleeji cuisine has been served "in a non-gravitational environment".
When MS-15 arrives on ISS, they will join Russian commander Alexey Ovchinin and American astronauts Col Nick Hague and Christina Koch, meaning there are six on board.
A daily menu will be prepared for Maj Al Mansouri with the types of food that he selected during his training period at Star City.
The two Emiratis have spent up to two hours per day for a week tasting 200 different types of halal food. The Russian company is responsible for preparing these meals for space.
“The astronaut’s meals are prepared according to specific requirements to provide a balanced nutrition, while ensuring that they are easy to carry, store, and use in a non-gravitational environment," Maj Al Mansouri said.
"These foods are processed at high temperatures to be stored for long periods. We evaluated about 200 different types of halal food on a scale of one to nine — from most to least favourite."
Despite coming in cans and tubes of paste, he said it "compared to the food we eat on Earth".
“I’m honoured to be the first astronaut to host an Emirati night on board the ISS to promote the Emirati culture, which I am proud to belong to, and share some delicious Emirati food like salona, madrouba and balaleet, which I’m sure they will like," he said.
Mr Al Neyadi said the ISS menu includes soups and cheese for starters, and the main course includes fish, chicken or beef, in addition to desserts and drinks such as tea and juices.
Nasa has traditionally used retort pouches and freeze-dried food, whereas the Russians prefer tins and tubes. The cans can be placed on a special cooker to heat the contents.
Many of the inventions used in daily life were developed primarily to be used in space, including baby formula. Nasa first experimented with a food formula that would work for long distances to space, which led to the discovery of a substance used in the manufacture of artificial milk.
Frozen food for households can also be traced back to the search for a way to feed astronauts on long journeys.
On ISS, Maj Al Mansouri will present a tour of the station in Arabic for viewers back on Earth. He will also document the daily lives of astronauts at the station. Fifteen experiments put forward by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre's Science in Space school competition will be carried out.
Maj Al Mansouri will return to Earth aboard and land in the wilderness of Kazakhstan in early October. The 34-year-old — a former F-16 Block 60 fighter pilot — has spent much of this year in Russia undergoing space training and ground survival techniques.