That Time an Astronaut Got a Pie Sent to the International Space Station

Pie in the sky, literally.
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Would you like pie with that? (NASA)

Peggy Whitson was the first female commander of the International Space Station. In October 2002, she was living on the Station. And during STS-112, the shuttle mission that sent astronauts to help build out the Station's infrastructure, her husband took part in a time-honored tradition: he sent her a care package.

One of his gifts? A pie. 

In a talk about Station life at the Aspen Ideas Festival yesterday, astronaut Jeffrey Ashby told the pie-in-the-sky story. Traditional gifts that shuttles delivered to Station-bound astronauts tended to be things like books and movies and DVDs, he said -- things to help astronauts living on the Station keep connected to the people and cultures back on Earth. 

In Whitson's case, though, the gift was a pecan pie -- a gesture from her husband. "I don't know how he got it past the food people," Ashby said.

There was a problem, though: in order to make it up to the Space Station, the pie had to be, you know, launched into space. Even stored in a locker aboard the shuttle -- and even being pecan, one of the hardier types of pie -- the baked good was subject to g-forces. So by the time it arrived, Ashby said, "the pie was in about half the shell."

That was okay, though. In this, as with most gifts, it was the thought that counted. And, fortunately, Whitson's husband had also included in his care package a foodstuff that is less delicate and, in tastebud-challenging space, even more valuable than pie: hot sauce.

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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