Huntsville students hoping to create an out-of-this-world meal for NASA

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Call it a recipe for success.

Four students from Huntsville City Schools' Culinary Arts program, along with their instructor, are headed to NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston next month for a cooking competition.

The team from Huntsville Center for Technology is one of ten finalists from around the nation that qualified to compete in the agency's Culinary Challenge on April 21.

The students - Amanda Evans, Franklin Jackson, Ladaija Collier and Taylor Lanier - advanced to the national event after recently impressing the regional judges with their Quick Brown Rice Paella.

It's the second year for NASA's Culinary Challenge, in which students are tasked with creating a meal suitable for astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

The food must meet strict nutritional requirements.

Each entry must contain at least 3 grams of fiber, less than 8 grams of sugar and have 300-500 calories.  NASA is also looking for meals that are low in salt and suitable for consumption in the micro-gravity environment of the ISS.

Of course, the food also has to taste good.

That's why the HCT students used peppers, saffron and other spices to give their dish a little extra kick.

Amanda Evans explains, "They lose some of their taste buds when they go into space. So, you've gotta make it extra spicy, so they can taste it."

Instructor Karen Rodriguez says she's proud of her students and can't believe the team is headed to Houston.

They expect to spend the next couple of weeks tweaking their recipe, in preparation for finals.

On April 21, they'll cook their dish in the Space Food Systems Laboratory at Johnson Space Center, before serving it to a panel of astronauts for judging.

The winning team will have its menu prepared and sent to the ISS.