Investigating the "Charlie Brown Effect": Astronauts' Chubby Faces and Hot-Sauce Cravings

By Sarah Zhang | February 27, 2012 8:45 am

spacing is importantOne of these pockets must have Tabasco.

Does this zero gravity make me look fat? Yup. It’s called the Charlie Brown effect, according to Michele Perchonok, NASA’s shuttle food system manager, and it’s not because she’s fattening them up with shrimp cocktail and chicken consommé. Without the benefit of gravity, bodily fluids accumulate in the head, giving the astronauts rounder, cartoon-like faces.

As anyone who’s had a cold knows, more fluid in our facial cavities also means congestion and weakening our sense of smell. But is lack of gravity actually responsible to for all this? There’s only one way to find out: “Perchonok has asked [food engineer Jean Hunter] and her crew at Cornell to test the stuffy nose theory. To do that on Earth, volunteers will spend several weeks in a bed where their heads are lower than their feet to try to re-create that Charlie Brown effect.” This might not be what people had in mind when they volunteered for astronaut simulations.

Perchonok and Hunter got interested in the stuffy nose theory because they noticed that hot sauce was a surprisingly popular astronaut request. People who lose their sense of smell start preferring spicy foods, and they thought the same might be happening to astronauts. So if space travel isn’t exciting enough—to be honest being crammed in a small metal ship for days on end might get a little boring—they’ve got hot sauce to, uh, spice things up.

[via NPR]

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