While the rest of the world focused on the space race between Russia and the United States, Paul Lachance, PhD, an Air Force Aeromedical Laboratories biologist, worried about the safety of the food astronauts were eating during a mission.
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“I did not want a telephone call at 2 o’clock in the morning from Chuck [Charles A.] Berry, who was the chief medical officer of NASA, telling me that his astronaut or astronauts were sick and had stomach problems and were having a hard time holding things down,” Lachance told interviewer Jennifer Ross-Nazzal in a May 2006 interview for the NASA Johnson Space Center Oral History Project. “We have to realize that this was the first time in the history of the American—or of the food industry in the world, in fact—but for the United States, that zero pathogens in foods [was required].”
This started Lachance, a former NASA flight and food coordinator from 1963-1967 and a PhD professor emeritus of nutrition and food science at Rutgers University, on the road to being a pioneer developer of HACCP, a method NASA has referred to as “the most revolutionary institutional innovation to ensure food safety of the 20th century,” according to a 2009 profile of him in the Saint Michael’s College Magazine.
HACCP, which aims to identify potential food safety hazards and apply critical control points to reduce threats, has since expanded well beyond NASA to become a staple safety method at consumer food processing plants worldwide. Lachance, a native of St. Johnsbury, Vt., has been credited with developing HACCP, along with his collaborating scientists at the U.S. Army Laboratories in Natick, Mass., and Howard Bauman, PhD, a microbiologist who led Pillsbury’s work to develop space food for astronauts.
Keeping Space Crews Safe
While completing a tour of duty with the U.S. Air Force Aeromedical Laboratories at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, Lachance became aware of the issues involved in producing astronaut food. That lab also supported the pre-flight feeding of Mercury mission astronauts, according to historical information from NASA, which recruited him to become the flight food and nutrition coordinator at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston. While there, he revamped the food systems for both the Gemini and Apollo space programs.
About Lori Valigra
Lori Valigra writes about science, technology, and business for general and specialty news outlets in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, including coverage of the "farm to fork" movement and food safety. She’s been involved in several media startups, and had articles published by The Boston Globe, Reuters, Science magazine, and others. She holds an MS in science journalism from Boston University and a BS in medical writing from University of Pittsburgh. She won numerous journalism fellowships and awards, including the Knight Science Journalism Fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Lori enjoys bicycling, snowshoeing, gardening, and traveling. She lives in the western mountains of Maine. Reach her at email@example.com.