Dr. Rodolfo Neri Vela’s incredible career as an engineer and scientist reached new heights when, in 1985, he became the first Mexican to travel into space. While on board the space shuttle Atlantis, he helped to deploy communication satellites, went on spacewalks, and conducted many other experiments.

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However, it was his choice of a space food menu item that would forever change the way astronauts eat! Dr. Neri Vela’s simple request for NASA food scientists to include tortillas in the menu meant that, for the first time, this basic food of Latin American cuisine would fly in space.

Why was this such a breakthrough? Space food is important for so many reasons. Obviously it gives astronauts nourishment, but it also provides a little piece of home in an environment that can be very confined. Many astronauts say they can’t taste things as well in space, so having food that is appetizing can mean that space explorers eat enough to stay fit.

Taste isn’t the only issue. Having food that is safe for the crew and the spacecraft is also critical. How can food hurt a spacecraft? Well, think about what would happen if floating crumbs worked their way into sensitive electronics.

The tortilla was a real breakthrough: Astronauts now had a type of bread that made very few crumbs and could serve to hold a variety of other foods from eggs to peanut butter and jelly. It was an immediate hit!

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Having a little “slice” of home in space is important in so many ways, but every decision you make about your crew and your spacecraft can have enormous consequences.

Watch the video below to see how astronauts eat food in space and to hear about the benefits of those tortillas: