Recently, a batch of baked chocolate chip cookies returned from space, signifying a major step forward towards the future of how humans will eat and thrive in space.
The delicious experiment, which took place using cookie dough from Hilton's DoubleTree Hotel and the Zero G oven, an oven designed specifically to work in the microgravity environment aboard the International Space Station, was the first time that raw ingredients (the dough) was cooked or baked.
"I think it was a great success," former NASA astronaut Mike Massimino, who has served as a sort of "cookie consultant" for Hilton throughout this experiment, told Space.com. "We now know this can be done." He added that the success of this experiment opens "the door for other opportunities to cook things."
The experiment also answered a few questions about what happens when you try to bake in space. One of the biggest questions people had was: "would the space station smell like fresh-baked cookies?" And, apparently the smell from the cookies did permeate the station (after they were baked for a certain amount of time). The experiment also found that cookies take a lot longer to bake in space (they don't know why yet) and they turn out looking like regular, Earth cookies, not puffed up like some thought they might be.
"With this cookie i thought it would be a lot poofierm," Massimino said. The cookie looked more "like a cookie you would bake on Earth.
Further investigation and analysis of the experiment's results will also continue to answer questions, such as why the cookies took much longer to bake in space and why they weren't "poofy."
Massimino, who brought individually-wrapped, bite-sized biscotti up to space with him and famously was only one of two astronauts to ever gain weight in space, related the experiment to an experiment he partook in which tested how sunflowers would grow in space. According to Massimino, the flower itself looked "normal" but "the stalk was like a wire below us," because it didn't need to be thick to support the flower because of the microgravity environment.
So ... why bake cookies in space?
As Massimino, who also serves as the Senior Advisor for Space Programs at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York, NY, explained, the experiment has been an incredible teaching tool for people of all ages.
The cookie experiment is a "great way to get people of all ages interested in what's going on in space," he said.
But, besides its importance as an education tool, the experiment also has incredible applications for supporting longterm spaceflight, he added.
"I think a lot of astronauts will be looking forward to having cookies," he said about some of the most obvious applications. "In space," he added "you're looking for these reminders of home." Massimino added that these connections to home, to Earth, helps astronauts to feel "normal" and morale boosters like these are incredibly important to the astronaut's psychological well-being, which is integral to their performance.
The future of space exploration
This experiment also marks a big step forward for space exploration.
"This is a big step in that direction for the future of exploration where we're gonna be off the planet for longer periods of time," Massimino said. He continued, adding that within the very near future we may be starting to build settlements on off-Earth location like the moon, and we will need to use specialized tech to ensure that the humans living off-Earth have access to good, nutritious (and delicious) food.
As far as what might be next for baking or cooking in space, Massimino had a couple of suggestions.
So what does Massimino want to see next? "The next thing would definitely be a pizza of some sort," he said. "Bagel bites or hot pockets of some sort." He added that it would also be nice for astronauts to have something they could "bite into … something big like a big cheeseburger or a big sandwich."
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