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Space travel can affect astronauts' sense of taste and smell

24 February 2012
NPR: After a few days in space, astronauts start craving spicier food, and researchers are looking into the reason why. Jean Hunter, a food engineer at Cornell University, says that space travel can cause humans to lose their sense of smell. That loss, says Michele Perchonok, the head of NASA's food science program, may be due to the weightless environment. On Earth, gravity causes body fluids to settle toward the feet, but in space, those fluids can float freely throughout the body. The retention of fluids in the head can have the same effect as congestion from a cold or virus. Congestion lessens the ability to smell and, therefore, taste food, which can lead to a preference for hot peppers and other spicy items. To develop the best menu options for people whose sense of smell is diminished, Kimberly Binsted of the University of Hawaii at Manoa is recruiting participants for a Mars habitat simulation. Besides working to improve the food choices, Binsted also encourages astronauts to focus on experimenting with new food combinations while in space as a way to relieve the stress.
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