One Flour Bluff Man Kept Astronauts Fed In Space And Now He Is Sharing His Love For STEM With Children Around The Country

Matt Briscoe 
The Southside Light 
Email Matt Briscoe

Flour Bluff— Andy Butler wasn’t born and raised in Corpus Christi. In fact, until he turned 59 years-old he had never spent longer than 6 weeks here in the area and that was back when he did a short stint in the Navy back in 1978. But something about the place left an impression on him that he just couldn’t shake and he always knew that it was right here in Corpus Christi that he wanted to call home. And now that he and his wife, Linda are happily enjoying their retirement years, they made good on a promise to come back to the “Sparkling City by the Sea.” But their journey back to Corpus Christi took them places that they never imagined and now, Andy travels the country telling his story to school children in hopes of inspiring them to excel into greater things then even he imagined in his youth.

“I wasn’t ready to just sit on my porch just yet,” Butler laughs while having lunch one afternoon at Floyd’s cafe in Flour Bluff. “I just wake up and look for something meaningful to do with my time these days.” 

But something meaningful is exactly what Andy has made a life doing. Butler was a Health and Safety Manager for NASA in Houston and he worked almost daily with the astronauts that would go and live aboard the International Space Station. His job included helping create nutrition plans and meals for astronauts and it is that love for humanity and science that he travels around spreading even today. 

“It is fun to see the kids light up when you tell them about what and how the astronauts eat in space,” he says with a grin. “They really love it when I explain that what astronauts eat in space really isn’t all that different than what we eat here on earth.” 

Butler says that it’s when kids find out where NASA buys the astronaut’s food that they really come alive. 

“In Houston, we had several Kroger grocery stores,” he says. “And that my friend is where most of the food in space comes from these days.” 

Butler shows a package of vacuum sealed food that he had prepared for an astronaut just weeks before he retired. The package contained beef brisket and sauce from a Houston area BBQ restaurant that the astronaut had specifically requested. 

“Really, we can take almost anything and make it available to the astronauts. There are some limits, but for the most part almost anything these days is fair game.” 

Butler says that what happens is the food is bought at just a local grocery store. From there it is prepared in a commercial kitchen at Johnson Space Center in Houston and then Butler says that is where science comes into play. 

“All of the water is then taken out of the food and then it is vacuum packaged and sealed just a few weeks before flight,” Butler says. “Of course, we in the nutrition department have to taste test it first and the doctors make sure it is safe to eat and then we certify it for launch. That’s really all there is to it.” 

Butler shows off packages of enchiladas, taco meat, meat loaf, and various vegetables and side dishes ranging from refried beans to mashed potatoes. Somethings like cauliflower and broccoli doesn’t travel as well and becomes what they call “unsuitable for flight.” 

“The reason for that is because some vegetables just don’t do well dehydrated,” he said. “Mashed potatoes use potatoe flakes, crystallized butter, Sea salt and you’re good to go.” 

Getting the food to the astronauts is another story. It costs enormous amounts of money to send the food “up hill” as Butler calls it. That’s why when the food is here on the ground, they focus on weight. 

“We dehydrate it here on earth because water means weight,” Butler notes. “Weight adds cost and we have to be mindful of that.” 

Once in orbit the astronauts add hot water and warm air to heat the food prior to consuming it. 

As for living in the Corpus Christi area, the Butler’s say that they wouldn’t live any place else. 

“We have been here for almost a year and are working with our realtor to finalize the purchase of a home out here in Flour Bluff,” Andy says. “We absolutely love it and the community has so much to offer that we just would not want to be anywhere else.”