Kimchi is ready for outer space

South Korean scientists hope that when the nation's first astronaut blasts off aboard the Russian spacecraft Soyuz in 2008, he will take vacuum-packed kimchi along for the voyage.

Scientists at the Korean Atomic Energy Research Institute overcame several challenges to make the national culinary treasure ready for space. With kimchi, micro-organisms were eliminated by radiation before being sealed in a half-dried state.

'If Korea is going to begin space exploration, we thought some oriental food should be on the menu, and we developed the kimchi as part of our studies into atomic energy, which we used to sterilise all sorts of things, including food and cosmetics,' said Lee Ju-woon, a member of the research team.

They also had to take into account that taste buds and sense of smell are blunted in outer space.

The scientists involved in the project say they believe they have succeeded in producing a safe food which smells and tastes just like the original cabbage fermented in hot pepper, garlic and fish sauce.

'When we met with Russian scientists last year, they saw the kimchi and we got a very positive response. The problem now is that the kimchi has to meet the strict standards that the Russians have for space food,' the scientist said.

The Korea Aerospace Research Institute has set up a website where citizens can apply for the astronaut position. Thousands have applied, says the Korea Times. The successful candidate will blast off in April 2008 for the International Space Station in a voyage set to take about 10 days.