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Check It Out: Holiday Cookie Baking From Space

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When you picture cookie baking you might envision a cozy traditional kitchen with baking sheets, measuring cups, and a KitchenAid mixer. Maybe there are flour spills somewhere. Maybe someone is trying to sneak in a fingerful of raw cookie dough. 

Now, a recent series of high-end scientific experiments are turning this image on its head. Timed for mid-December, to coincide with the holiday season when home cooks everywhere are upping their baking game, astronauts on the International Space Station were asked to bake cookies above Earth’s orbit. These space bakers traded in the backdrop of a cozy kitchen for one where the stars, the sun, and the moon are just outside their window.  

About The Space Baking Experiments

The “out of this world” culinary experiments were commissioned by researchers who wanted to know more about baking in a microgravity environment. On Earth, baking is fairly straightforward. The heat from an oven radiates through the dough evenly. After a certain number of minutes, baking is finished and a sweet snack is ready. Not so in space.

When you get beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, everything about baking changes. Air doesn’t rise or radiate as it does on earth so it’s not clear if it will work through a cookie to bake it. As with any other chemical process, ingredients may not react the same way with each other in space as they do on earth. Most frustratingly, because there’s no gravity the cookie dough doesn’t stay on the tray, and the tray or oven itself can’t be expected to stay in place unless it is fastened down. This makes it even harder for the warm air to permeate the dough properly during cooking.

As the astronauts prepare to bake in space, they’re going to see if it is possible to overcome these hurdles. Unlike working in a home kitchen, however, once they’re finished with their baking they won’t get to sample the results. Instead, they’ll be packaging up their treats to be analyzed in a lab by researchers on Earth. 

A New Kind Of Oven May Solve Space Baking Problems

These experiments were largely designed to test out a new kind of oven that’s designed to address space baking problems. The blue, cylindrical oven was designed by a startup company called Zero G Kitchen and sent to the space station just before the 2019 holidays. 

Naturally, the space oven has a very different design than what’s in most earth-bound home kitchens. For starters, it is round so that it can have heaters on all sides that send warm air through the dough evenly. There’s also a special tray that keeps the cookie dough secure (pictured with this article courtesy of ZeroGKitchens). 

So, how did it work? The oven was used with promising results: Everything appeared to work as expected. The most difficult part of the task was determining bake times, but astronauts believe they got things right after just a few attempts. 

The Effects On Future Space Travel

Why is it so important to improve food production in space? If researchers can perfect human ability to bake in space, there will be a huge impact on astronaut quality of life and nutrition. This ability may make sad jokes about freeze-dried space food a thing of the past.  

Space food jokes aside, as governments and space businesses look to develop extended missions, they want to understand every facet about what it would take to support human life outside of Earth’s orbit for the long-term. This becomes even more important as the world plans long-duration missions to the Moon, to Mars, and beyond. It only stands to reason that if humans are going to spend extensive time in space, they’re going to need to eat well while they’re there. This kind of research will help. 

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