14 Questions with the First Mom in Space (+why 20-Min Meals are out of this world) September 22, 2017
We’re celebrating the launch of 20-Minute Meals with Anna Fisher, the first mom in space. Why? Because she knows a thing or two about multitasking and going really, really fast. Plus, she cooks a mean butternut squash agnolotti.
If you’ve never been an astronaut, you may not be as keenly familiar with the term T-20 as Anna Fisher is. But don’t worry, we’re using it to tell everyone about our newest menu update: 20-Minute Meals, which take just T-20 minutes to prepare and cook. That means more time for loving every bite.
We think they’re perfect picks for busy weeknights, but we decided to consult an expert before we officially put ’em on the menu. Plus, it gave us a chance to ask her some of our most pressing questions about space. Win-win!
Listen to the 20-minute podcast while you whip up dinner this week, or check out some highlights from her conversation with Rebecca, our Head Dietitian, below.
Highlights from the podcast
1. Rebecca: Now that you aren’t on exciting missions in space, have you been enjoying all the fun stuff right here on earth?
Anna: I really have. That’s one of the reasons I decided to retire when I did. I had a really busy schedule this year: a daughter who’s expecting a baby, another daughter getting married, lots of trips. So I’ve had a chance to just do all those wonderful things that I’ve wanted to do and have looked forward to for a long time.
2. Rebecca: To us, T-20 represents our newest menu update, 20-Minute Meals, and it means any prep or cooking that will take place before the first delicious bite takes just 20 minutes. What actually goes through your mind when you’re sitting in a rocket and hear T-20 over the intercom?
Anna: Well, it starts to get pretty scary around that time because it all starts to seem very real. I think the whole process of launching into space sometimes seems surreal. And you train for a very long time, many years before you’re actually assigned to a flight, and then at least a year, or maybe even more when you’re actually training for your flight. So when you finally get to that 20-minute mark it starts to seem really real. What really gets real is when it’s T-30 seconds.
3. Rebecca: How many times did you go into space in your career?
Anna: I was in space once, November 8-16, 1984. I was actually training for my second flight when the Challenger incident happened. I was about six weeks from flying my second mission. Then, of course, once the Challenger incident happened we knew we wouldn’t be flying for at least two years, maybe up to three years, so we decided to have our second child. And then I wound up taking a seven year leave of absence to stay home with my daughters. So, I had kind of a different career trajectory than most astronauts.
4. Rebecca: When you were on the mission, what was your primary responsibility?
Anna: Well, my first role was being the flight engineer, so I sat slightly behind the commander and pilot and my job was to keep us on the timeline. If there were any malfunctions that happened, I’d need to lead us through the procedures and so forth, so that was a big job. But then my major job in orbit was to be the lead for launching one of our satellites. Then, I operated the robotic arm when we were retrieving two satellites that were in orbit (their rocket engine that was supposed to take them to a higher orbit failed). So, we had these two perfectly good, very expensive satellites — we brought them back so they could be refurbished and launched again.
5. Rebecca: Knowing you did all that, do you find that something like cooking meals at home can also feel challenging from time to time? As someone whose gone through such crazy adventures in your lifetime, do you face the same kinds of challenges as any other home cook? Busy schedule, lack of energy…you know, the usual stuff.
Anna: Oh, definitely. I think I’m one of those people that’s a lot more comfortable launching a rocket than preparing a meal for people. I’m a relatively good cook as long as I’m not under a ton of pressure. I truly admire cooks that are able to do that. That’s perhaps not my forte, but I’m certainly willing to learn and willing to take advice, and I’ve certainly gotten better as I’ve gotten older with more experience. It always tastes good, but it doesn’t necessarily come out all together or look beautiful the way many chefs can do.
6. Rebecca: We know that getting dinner on the table can be tough, and even 30 minutes isn’t an option for them, which is why we’re launching 20-Minute Meals. Knowing that you were a mom with a major career, is this something that you struggled with? Did you cook in your household when your kids were growing up?
Anna: Yes, I’d say that I cooked, but during the week it was a pretty big challenge. My daughters went to school 45 minutes away and then they had very active after-school lives; both of them danced and did gymnastics, all those sorts of things. So getting a meal on the table and having everybody together was the challenge. I would say that I did most of my cooking on the weekends.
7. Rebecca: Would you say that having the option of a 20-Minute Meal would have made your life easier as a mom when you were juggling work and family?
Anna: Oh definitely, that would have helped. Really, the things that were available to us back in the 80s and 90s when I was raising my daughters were just fast food options. A lot of times we ate on-the-go, and I really would’ve loved to put a good, healthy dinner on the table. But we were just struggling to get everything done that we needed to get done! So yes, it definitely would’ve helped.
8. Rebecca: We thought a lot about cooking speed when we came up with these 20-Minute Meals, so I want to ask about the speed of a rocket. How fast does it really go?
Anna: Well, from launch to orbit is about 8.5-9 minutes, and you go from 0 mph to 17,500 mph which is orbital velocity. So you’re moving really, really rapidly. For example, it takes 8 – 8.5 minutes to go from the east coast to the west coast [of the U.S.] when you’re aboard the shuttle. But it doesn’t feel that fast when you’re moving. You’re looking at the beautiful earth below, and it just really doesn’t feel that fast. Just like you’re floating into space, which is exactly what you’re doing.
9. Rebecca: Do you think that 20 minutes to get a delicious, home-cooked dinner on the table is fast?
Anna: For me, definitely.
10. Rebecca: So, do you like to cook?
Anna: Oh, I really enjoy cooking. It’s really fun to have a home-cooked meal, and have your family around. But it does add stress when you feel like you have to. And then to do all the shopping and that sort of stuff. So having a service like yours that takes out the hard parts and just lets you have the fun parts is really great.
11. Rebecca: How do you feel about cooking with HelloFresh?
Anna: I really enjoy it. I wish those kinds of services would have been available when I had young children. As my oldest daughter gets ready to have her first child, I’m certainly going to recommend that she use that sort of a service and I’m sure that’ll make her life easier.
12. Rebecca: Being the first mom in space, what were some of the biggest obstacles that you faced?
Anna: My daughter was 14 months old when I flew and it was very, very hard to leave her. But I had this incredible honor that had been given to me: to be one of the first six women ever selected for the U.S. space program. It was not even an option to think about not doing that. So when I was offered that opportunity, of course, the answer was yes.
13. Rebecca: Do you think there were skills that being a mom taught you which helped you excel at being an astronaut, and vice versa? How do those two things interact?
Anna: I think one of the things you learn when you’re flying as part of the training is…to multitask — which is something all moms need to know how to do. The one thing I think being an astronaut helped being a mom is that I was very happy. I felt very blessed having been an astronaut. That made me happy, and because I was happy and fulfilled, I think that made me a better mom. And then being a better mom helped me be happy at work I think, when I didn’t get everything I wanted. Every person at any job wants certain things, so I think that having the two of them gave me balance in my life. I think the two of them contributed to the other because I was happy.
14. Rebecca: When you’re in space, is eating very social? Or is it more of a solo activity when you’re on a rocket?
Anna: Breakfast and lunch were kind of solo activities. You would kind of just do your own thing. We had one crew member who always made up coffee for everybody, which was really nice to get everybody’s days going. But we always had dinner together. At the end of the day, two of us would take turns preparing the meal, we’d all eat together and talk about how that day went…what we were going to do the next day…and just enjoy each other’s company. Kind of like a family. My crew mates became like a second family to me. Dinnertime in particular was something we always did together and I think that’s true for most other crews, as well.
Want to hear more?
And if you’re cooking the delicious Butternut Squash Agnolotti with Kale in a Sage Brown Butter Sauce this week? Get inspired by Anna and Rebecca, who whipped it up in the test kitchen on Facebook Live.