A team of researchers wants to ‘bake were nobody baked before’. Sometime in 2018, a microgravity oven is slated for launch to the International Space Station where it will bake the first space-grade bread in history. As anything on the International Space Station, this won’t be your regular bread. Designed and inspected from all scientific angles, the space bread will not only be filling and fresh, but also safe for the special environment.

On March 23, 1965 astronaut John Young launched to Earth’s orbit aboard the Gemini 3. With him were crewmate Gus Grissom and a two-day-old corn beef sandwich, smuggled without permission on the spacecraft. Apparently, Young was trying to do Grissom a favor since the latter enjoyed corn beef sandwiches so much. Here’s an excerpt of the comm-link between the two.

Grissom: What is it?
Young: Corn beef sandwich
Grissom: Where did that come from?
Young: I brought it with me. Let’s see how it tastes. Smells, doesn’t it?

The two might have had some laughs, but when they got back home no one was laughing. Grissom put the sandwich away after a bite or two, but even that was enough to litter the cabin in a myriad of floating breadcrumbs. Some of these crumbs could have infiltrated sensitive electronics and jeopardize the entire mission, including the astronauts’ lives. Of course, microgravity affects the odor molecules as well, and the smell went stale throughout the cabin. Since then, considerable attention has been given to space food and what astronauts are allowed to eat in space.

Even more than 50 years since the Gemini 3 rye bread sandwich stunt, astronaut food is still not the best, to say the least.  On the ISS, due to constraints regarding water generation, most of the food is be delivered frozen, refrigerated, or thermostabilized once every 90 days.

Typical ThanksGiving dinner on the International Space Station. Credit: NASA.

Typical ThanksGiving dinner on the International Space Station. Credit: NASA.

 

One small step for bread, one giant leap for mankind

In space, that’s just how things are — it’s an alien environment (literally) so astronauts not only are prepared, but even embrace the fact that they will miss out on many of things they enjoy on Earth. But seeing how astronauts are forced to eat every day, it would really be great if it was enjoyable too. Though far from kosher, astronaut food is getting better and better by the day. In 2015, Samantha Cristoforetti, an Italian astronaut, sipped the first coffee brewed in space using a brand new micro-gravity espresso machine. Late last year, astronauts ate the first veggies grown on the International Space Station. Soon enough, they’ll also be treated to the first space-baked bread.

The experiment called Bake In Space is led by a group of scientists and engineers from Germany, among them former shuttle astronaut Gerhard Thiele. The noble goal of the mission is “to address the scientific and technical challenges relating to the production of fresh bread in space.”

Before the shuttle missions, NASA still allowed astronauts to carry bread in microgravity but only in pre-cut, bite-sized cubes that were coated with gelatine to keep any crumbs from floating away. Then, tortillas replaced bread altogether.  Now, it’s time to make bread a thing again.

To bake the space bread, most likely a low-energy convection oven will be used to bake a special dough that produces a crumb-free bread. The challenge is to make a crumb-free bread tasty too since this property often means baking tough and chewy bread.

According to Bake In Space, the food produced will be an adapted type of weekend German bread rolls. The hope is the fresh bread will not only offer sustenance but psychological comfort too.

“Besides [being] a source for nutrition, the smell of fresh bread evokes memories of general happiness and is an important psychological factor,” the project website states. “It is a symbol of recreational time and procedure down on Earth.”

The first space bread is slated for 2018 when the necessary equipment will arrive on the ISS during Alexander Gerst’s second science mission on the complex as an ESA astronaut.

 

 

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