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Space food first: jalapenos

By OLIVE TALLEY

SPACE CENTER, Houston -- What the early astronauts did for a now-famous breakfast drink called Tang, William Lenoir may do for that fiery Texas delicacy the jalapeno pepper -- which he took into space for the first time.

Lenoir, aboard the space shuttle Columbia, puzzled ground controllers and reporters the first day of the flight by asking mission control to 'tell Woody the jalapenos are outstanding.'

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His wife, Liz, solved the mystery Friday, revealing Lenoir took the spicy Mexican treats as personal space munchies.

Texans eat the one-inch to three-inch green peppers with Mexican food -- or even alone. The peppers often are chased quickly by beer.

Jalapenos cause oral discomfort and digestive distress for some people, but Mrs. Lenoir said her husband never suffers ill effects.

'They had to have fresh fruit on the flight, and that's what he chose,' she said. 'I don't know, but I imagine they expanded the definition of fruit for that. Most people would choose apples.'

'I can confirm,' said space agency spokesman John McLeaish, 'this is the first time we've taken jalapenos into space.'

'As far as we know, there are no restrictions on food they can take on board,' McLeaish said. 'Obviously, it has to be compatible with the ability to prepare it.'

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Jalapenos, the way Lenoir partakes, require no preparation. He eats them whole.

Mrs. Lenoir also disclosed that the 'Woody' mentioned by her husband is astronaut Sherwood Spring, who grew the jalapenos in his backyard garden and gave Lenoir a bag of the hottest ones he had.

'We gave him a whole bag and he picked out the ones he wanted,' she said.

'The hot ones are mottled green and have a pointed end on them. The best ones are the ones that make your nose kind of runny and your eyes watery.

'The ones with the rounded ends are less hot, and when forced to, I'll eat them.'

Mrs. Lenoir said she had no idea how the jalapenos were packaged for the flight.

She said her husband usually does not cut them into pieces, as many less-macho Texans might. Instead, she said, he takes a whole one and 'just pops it into his mouth.'

'He is a real connoisseur of jalapenos -- ever since he first discovered them when we moved to Texas 16 years ago,' Mrs. Lenoir said.

'We went to flight school in Del Rio, Texas, at Laughlin Air Force Base. That's right across the border from Mexico. Being from Massachusetts originally, he never had much of an interest in Mexican food.

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'When we got down here he discovered something he wanted all his life.'

During a preflight test in the crew cabin at Florida's Kennedy Space Center Tuesday, Lenoir offered to share his eats with fellow crewmen Vance Brand, Robert Overmyer and Joseph Allen.

'He offered one to Vance,' Mrs. Lenoir said. 'He tried one and decided he was not a jalapeno person. I suspect they were too hot for him.'

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