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Satellites For Supper, Poster Couture

by Jyllian Kemsley
February 9, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 6


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Meat loaf and vegetables might not be obvious choices for building a scaled-down satellite model. But the dinner staples turned out to be ideal construction materials for NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory communicator Laura Faye Tenenbaum. “I thought it would be cute,” she tells Newscripts of her efforts to sculpt a satellite good enough to eat. “I was shocked at how much I learned. You have to look at the satellite and interact with it in a way that you wouldn’t do otherwise.”

Tenenbaum started making edible satellite models a year ago, when NASA was preparing to launch its Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory to study Earth’s rain and snow. Tenenbaum happened to hear about a satellite model made of graham crackers and marshmallows and decided to try making her own using materials from her garden or that she would normally have in her kitchen.

To construct the GPM Core model, she used mashed potato for the precipitation radar; turkey walnut meat loaf for the avionics and propulsion module; yam, cucumber, and orange for the microwave imager; cherry tomato for the antenna; and seaweed for the solar arrays. Pieces of her backyard grapevine helped hold everything in place.

Tenenbaum has since gone on to build several other savory satellites. Most recently she created a model of the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory, which launched on Jan. 31. She constructed the edible SMAP using white cheddar for the body, celery for a large antenna boom, and pita bread for the large antenna. She used yam, cherry tomato, broccoli, and parsnip for other components, plus crackers for the solar array.

Tenenbaum has tried different materials for each satellite she’s done—including mango, eggplant, kale, radish, pumpkin pie filling, and chocolate. Part of the variation has been about experimentation; part has been what she’s harvesting from her garden at the time, she says.

Once Tenenbaum has constructed a satellite and photographed it for NASA’s climate change blog, she eats it. “It’s not going to waste!” she emphasizes.

Newscripts readers can also avoid waste by recycling their posters—into clothing or household accessories.

Credit: Amy Hanson
Stylish: Gary Ashley models his poster shirt.
Gary Ashley models his poster shirt.
Credit: Amy Hanson
Stylish: Gary Ashley models his poster shirt.
Gary Ashley models the back of his poster shirt.
Credit: Amy Hanson

After reading about packing-friendly fabric posters (C&EN, Oct. 6, 2014, page 56), Amy Hanson was inspired to sew. She has long made Hawaiian-style shirts out of science-themed fabric for her husband, University of Puget Sound chemistry professor John Hanson.

Fabric company Spoonflower prints custom fabric, so she ordered a few yards using a poster created by friend Gary W. Ashley, founder and chief scientific officer of ProLynx.

Three yards of fabric translated to about 2.5 posters, which gave Hanson the flexibility to align the poster across the front shirt panels and put Ashley’s name on the pocket. “Fortunately, he has a short name,” Hanson comments.

Hanson used Simplicity pattern 1413 for Ashley’s shirt, although she says she also likes McCall’s 2149. The fabric came out fine after washing and drying, Hanson adds.

One could also turn poster fabric into a lab coat, Hanson notes, or even pillows or quilts. Any other ideas, crafty chemists?

Jyllian Kemsley wrote this week’s column. Please send comments and suggestions to


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