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Product launch: a trip to the Taco Bell Space Station

Putting the commercial in commercial space

Illustration by William Joel

“I don’t want the Taco Bell International Space Station. I think it goes against what the public perceives the space station is supposed to be like.” — a quote from Erin MacDonald, an engineer for Engility’s Space and Mission Systems Group, during a panel on space sponsorship at the 34th Space Symposium, Space News reports.

Over my headset, I hear the flight controller counting down on the launch live stream.

“T-minus five minutes to liftoff.”

I don’t think my heart has ever pounded this hard. I’m strapped into a seat inside one of SpaceX’s SpriteDragon™ capsules, sitting on top of a Pepsi™ Falcon 9 rocket. And I’m just 300 seconds away from my first trip to space. With every second that ticks away, my nerves send an electric shock throughout my body. I’ve never been more exhilarated or more petrified.

“T-minus two minutes to liftoff.”

I think of my mother and father, just a few miles away on the Florida Depends™ causeway watching the launch from afar. I know that their fear is probably greater than my own this morning. I say a silent prayer for a safe flight just so that we all may be reunited again. Then, the host counts down: five, four, three, two... one.

The engines ignite. My body is slammed against the back of my seat, along with the three other crew members sitting next to me. We climb into the sky, the rocket piercing its way through the small clouds above. It’s like no other experience I’ve ever felt before. The rocket gathers speed, and the extra Gs makes it seem as if an invisible wall is pressing down against my chest. I feel like I’m becoming two-dimensional.

The blue sky above fades into black as we transition from Earth’s dense atmosphere to the vacuum of space. It’s a journey that lasts just 10 minutes, but it feels like half of my life has passed. All I can do is sit motionlessly and try not to panic. Then, in a blink, our capsule separates from the rocket, and suddenly we’re in orbit.

I’m here. Space. The place I’ve dreamed of visiting my whole life. My hands begin to float upward in front of me, and I unbuckle the straps on my seat, lightly pushing myself against the capsule’s wall. I don’t think I can describe the utter joy that is floating in microgravity. A broad grin breaks out across my face as I float toward one of the capsule’s wide windows, looking out at the curvature of the Earth. At once, I’m a different person than the human I was just half an hour ago.

And then a voice chimes in my headset:

“Now that our astronauts have reached orbit, you have time to grab yourself some Fiery Doritos® Locos Tacos! You may not be able to breathe fire like SpaceX’s SpriteDragon™, but you can eat fire instead! Make it a supreme, and you’ll be as hot as the Pepsi™ Falcon 9 rocket is when it launches to space. Think outside the burn!”

——

After a day in orbit, we begin the final approach to our destination: the Taco Bell Space Station. I peer outside one of the capsule’s windows as the SpriteDragon™ automatically docks to the station’s port. The station is made up of two inflatable B330 habitats, manufactured by Bigelow Aerospace. The modules have the same white puffy exterior as all of Bigelow’s stations, but this one has a giant purple bell printed on the side, along with a caption: “LIVE MÁS.”

A slight jolt alerts us that the SpriteDragon™ has docked. A second later, we hear a familiar bell chime over the capsule’s speaker.

After a few hours, the hatch on the SpriteDragon™ is opened. We’re greeted by four smiling crew members, all of whom are wearing pink and purple polo shirts. They take us on a quick tour, showing us the station’s sleeping quarters, the small research lab, and the bathroom. We also pass by the Burrito Space Bar, which holds freeze-dried ingredients needed for putting together Taco Bell’s staples. Cheese, beans, and ground beef are all thermostabilized and vacuum-sealed in gray pouches. I wonder if they have what it takes for a Cheesy Gordita Crunch.

The first few days onboard are hellish. I have terrible space adaptation syndrome, and I’m constantly on the verge of throwing up. (There are Marvel Comics barf bags; I select the Iron Man one just in case.) The incumbent crew assures me this happens to everyone, and they offer me their tried-and-true tips to deal with the symptoms. It also doesn’t help that space makes your face feel extra puffy, thanks to the fluid shift in your body. It takes me up to three days to adapt to my new surroundings before I feel ready to function properly.

But I came here for a reason, and I need to see it through. On day 7, I wake up early and spend the first few hours of the day getting inside one of the station’s Dollar Cravings space suits. It’s big and bulky, but in microgravity, you don’t feel the weight. However, it does get hot inside the suit, so I wear an Under Armour-sponsored cooling garment underneath. I’ll be on this spacewalk for a few hours at least, so I need to be prepared.

The airlock is opened for me and I emerge into space, along with another suited crew member, my colleague Greg. I’m in total awe. It is a truly miraculous sight out here in low Earth orbit, the bright blue-and-green Earth shining underneath me. I feel like I’m swimming in a sea of nothingness. Though, we’re both tethered to the station so that we don’t float away.

We maneuver around and set up in position in front of the giant bell on the side of the station.

“All right, are you ready?” asks Greg. We’re both latched into foot restraints extending from the module. He raises his camera, the lens pointed right at me.

“Ready,” I say.

From a pouch attached to my suit’s chest, I pull out a stiff tortilla filled with dried meat, cheese, and lettuce. It’s Taco Bell’s latest menu item: The Big Bang Burrito. “There’s so much mass packed inside, you’ll literally explode,” the ad campaign goes. This particular burrito is barely edible, though. In fact, I’m not even sure it’s made of real food. The ingredients have been preserved by some unknown technique. I’m fairly certain everything is held together with extra-strength glue. And now, it’s my job to fling it into space.

I mime trying to eat the burrito and then pretend to lose my grip on it, tossing it into the void. It starts to tumble farther and farther away, and I turn to the camera, looking distressed.

“Houston, we’ve had a problem,” I say into the microphone inside my helmet.

We run through it a couple more times with a couple more disgusting burritos. We did go to space, after all. We want to get this shot right.

“Cut!” says Greg into his headset after the last take. “And that’s how you film the first spacewalk commercial!”

I watch the burritos floating away at 17,000 miles per hour and smile to myself. I had accomplished my mission: to live más.