Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) will bake the first chocolate chip cookies in space in a special oven. Although this delicious experiment will provide them with fresh cookies, it will also give them the opportunity to test what happens to food baked in a high heat and zero gravity setting.
Ultimately, the goal is to make the food on the ISS better for astronauts and to use this information to improve meals for future explorations to other planets. Good nutrition is a crucial part of any space mission that includes humans.
Baking Cookies in Space
The ISS received a test oven and cookie dough from Hilton's DoubleTree hotel chain to do the experiment. The "Zero G Kitchen Space Oven" made by NanoRacks doesn't look like the typical stove you find in one of the modern kitchens on Earth. Instead, it's a small, cylindrical capsule that has insulation.
"Since convection is not possible or difficult in zero gravity, heating is accomplished through electric heating elements (similar to that found in a toaster oven), powered by electricity drawn from the International Space Station’s internal power system. Heating elements are placed such that a sufficient pocket of heat is created around the food sample," NanoRacks explained.
One of the biggest challenges for astronauts on the ISS is how to keep their food from floating away. Researchers faced the same problem because they had to find a way to keep the cookies from floating inside the test oven. Their solution was to put the dough inside a special sealed tray that will prevent it from moving inside the oven.
Avoiding Dangerous Cookie Crumbs
Cookie crumbs on Earth are an annoyance, but they become a hazard on the ISS. Even a small crumb can damage instruments and other electronic equipment. To prevent crumbs from floating around the station and causing problems, NanoRacks made packages for the dough out of silicone pouches. The clear packaging makes it easy to see what is inside.
Since the cookies will automatically move to a cooling vent after baking, astronauts will only be able to access them once they're at a safe room temperature. There is no chance of someone dropping a cookie because it's burning their hands. This should also reduce the potential of crumbs spreading on the ISS.
Future Experiments and Fresh-Baked Food
The meals on the ISS are packaged and usually dehydrated. Typically, astronauts add water to reconstitute their food and can heat some of it in an oven that doesn't reach very high temperatures.
"Preparation varies with the food type. Some foods can be eaten in their natural forms, such as brownies and fruit. Other foods require adding water, such as macaroni and cheese or spaghetti. Of course, an oven is provided in the space station to heat foods to the proper temperature. There are no refrigerators in space, so space food must be stored and prepared properly to avoid spoilage, especially on longer missions," NASA said.
One of the struggles for astronauts on the ISS is the lack of fresh-baked food, such as fresh cookies or bread. Although their nutrition is monitored carefully, it's hard to spend weeks or months without the comforting foods they remember from home. The hope is that this initial chocolate chip cookie experiment will lead to other items being cooked on the ISS and better ovens.