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It's sterile (and it's not bad tasting either!)

by Linda Conrad
March 20, l998

photo of rat food bar Who knew that rat food could be so fun! Actually I have been teased in my office for being fixated on observing the loading of the rat food for the RAHF [Research Animal Handling Facility] habitats. It seemed very logical to me, what with having watched the construction of the waste trays for the same cages.

My habitat designing friends will want to take a close look at the pictures of the RAHF habitats at http://quest.arc.nasa.gov/neuron/photos/RAHF.html to get an idea of the layout. Essentially, each habitat has two "apartments" laid end to end. Notice there are two slots on the end, one for inserting the waste tray and the other for the rat food casette. Each of these slides down the entire length of the habitat, servicing both compartments.

Matt studying the drawings The food bar cassette is a long spring-loaded, double-barrelled instrument with rectangular shaped tubes that will hold the food bars. As food is consumed, the food bar will self-feed into an exposed area making it readily available at any time. Matt, pictured here with a cassette in hand, is studying the drawings to make sure everything is done precisely as planned.

There were two other people who made observing this project lots of fun: Kerry, whose hands were inside the Biohazard hood I described in "But is it sterile?" quipped throughout the process. He's the one that did the tough work. The other person was also named Linda, which got a little confusing when Kerry would say, "Linda!" Both of us jumped to attention, though the other Linda claimed she could tell the difference in his tone when he addressed each of us. Linda was camera shy and made me promise I'd only picture her hands so, sorry, you don't get to see what she looks like.

Linda spraying the package of food bars with sterilant When it comes to the food bar, this isn't just your ordinary run-of-the-mill rat food! It is sterile, wheat-based, vitamin packed, and not too terrible tasting -- yes, I did! I don't think Kellogg's and General Mills will be lining up for the rights anytime soon, but I would have to say that it didn't taste any worse than some of the cereals I've eaten. Actually, it was the aftertaste that I objected to! Afterwards it tasted like I had been grazing on dry grass. Notice Linda's hand (in sterile surgical gloves) spraying the package of food bars with sterilant before opening the outer package to allow Kerry to remove the pre-sterilized inner package.

The next few steps are much more easily followed using pictures (click on any picture to get a larger view):
description at right Time for the hand off: Kerry, careful not to touch the outside wrapper (even though it's been sprayed) removes the inside package containing food bars, and removes one food bar.
description at right He then put the first bar on the scales that he has inside the cabinet to weight it, and here's where I got to "help!"
description at right As he weighed "side A," Kerry would read out the weight, and I recorded it on the sheet under the appropriate foodbar cassette serial number. Then, we followed the same procedure with another bar for "side B." Okay, so it wasn't a big deal, but I felt like I was a part of the process, and that was fun!
description at right Following each weigh-in, Kerry would then insert the food bar into the channel of the appropriate side of the cassette.
description at right With both foodbars in place, Kerry would then read me the measurement to record on the list. I then created a label for identifying this particular food bar cassette.
description at right Now some green metallic hardware is attached.
description at right And finally the whole cassette is packaged in a protective sleeve that Kerry slid into a plastic bag held by Linda (with a label put in place by me!)

There you have it! One food bar cassette is ready to be packed for shipping to Kennedy Space Center for loading onto Neurolab. Happy eating my furry friends! I'm jealous! I'd put up with the aftertaste if I could go along!


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