Nevada Challenger hopes to get children interested in science through food.
On the International Space Station, American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts regularly come together to talk, trade snacks, and feast on ice cream, freeze-dried bacon bars, and PB&J tortillas. This November, Nevada children will be able to sample the cosmic cuisine during the Eating in Space event at the Challenger Learning Center of Northern Nevada, or Nevada Challenger.
The Nov. 13 event is part of the Science Saturday series put on by the Nevada Space Center — a collaboration between Nevada Challenger, the Desert Research Institute, the University of Nevada, Reno, and the National Automobile Museum in Reno. Nevada Challenger has been operating since 2007 to educate children about space and foster in them an interest in math, science, and technology.
“There really is a lot of material at that intersection between the food industry and space exploration,” says Paul McFarlane, lead flight director with Nevada Challenger. “I love those kinds of nexuses … food and culinary arts and sciences, bringing to bear on astronomy and astrophysics and astronautics.”
Preparing the presentation and food that will explore that nexus is chef Craig Rodrigue, an instructor at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno. Rodrigue was classically trained at the California Culinary Academy. His interest in space is partially due to his wife, Melodi, an astrophysicist and president of Nevada Challenger’s board.
As science advances, so does chef Rodrigue, updating the program’s menu every year and drawing from sources, including The New York Times, the MythBusters TV show, and NASA. Those attending the program will hear the history of astronauts’ meals, find out what makes food safe for space travel, gain insights into what might be packed on a trip to Mars, and, of course, taste a few foods.
Bringing People Together
“This is always one of the most popular Science Saturdays,” says Jennifer McFarlane, operations and outreach director of Nevada Challenger. “The different topics that we have over the course of the year may interest a little pocket here, a small group there, but everybody loves food.”
Demand has come from children, parents, and educators alike for Nevada Challenger’s in-person programming after a year of social distancing and online education. Jennifer McFarlane says everyone is “champing at the bit” to come back, learn together, and build community through food and science.
Science Saturdays are held on the second Saturday of every month at the National Automobile Museum in Reno’s Riverwalk District. For tickets to the events and more details on the program, visit Nevadachallenger.org.
Kristyn Leonard is a freelance writer and Reno transplant who hopes to never stop eating, learning, and trying new things.