It's scientific rule # 1: Don't eat your experiences.
This is usually good advice, but for astronauts aboard the International Space Station who are tasked with baking the first batch of cookies in space, can be hard to follow.
And understandably. In the last year and a half, the couple Ian and Jordana Fichtenbaum, founders of Zero G Kitchen, developing the first zero gravity oven This could revolutionize space food and bring a taste of home to astronauts who miss it. Last week, the furnace arrived at the space station. No dates have yet been announced to be tested.
Fichtenbaums' mission is simple and highly technical: "We want to build a kitchen in space, one piece at a time, and partner with companies, educators and researchers all the time," said Ian Fichtenbaum.
They decided to start with an oven – the centerpiece of the kitchen – and joined forces with Nanoracks, the premier provider of commercial access to space, and DoubleTree by Hilton, the premier supplier of sticky chocolate chip cookies for hotel guests, to send hospitality and innovation to the space station.
Designing an oven capable of baking space cookies is no easy task. Everyday tasks are more difficult in space, which lacks the force of gravity to prevent objects from floating – and cooking presents its own challenges. Traditional convection ovens work using gravitational properties; "Hot air rises, cold air falls," explained Abby Dickes, chief marketing officer of Nanoracks.
Then there is the challenge of keeping food safe and stationary while baking. To complicate matters further, the furnace must operate on a limited power supply so as not to blow a fuse on the space station.
But the zero gravity furnace is designed to work around these problems. It is comprised of a sleek, cylindrical chamber that houses an insertable silicone frame that wraps around the food to hold it in place. Cylindrical heating coils concentrate heat in food in the center of the chamber and raise the temperature much more slowly than traditional ovens to accommodate energy constraints.
"The oven has gone through a few different iterations, but the final creation turned out to be very fancy, very beautiful, and now it's in the space station ready to bake some DoubleTree cookies – and hopefully after that, all sorts of other creations," he says. Ian Fichtenbaum.
What can these other creations be? "At the moment, it's best to stick with things that are the size and shape of the patty – a roll, a meatball," said Jordana Fichtenbaum.
What about more composed dishes? A small casserole, maybe? "Yes, maybe a mini casserole," says Ian Fichtenbaum.
But first, cookies. The irony, of course, is that technically cookies should not be consumed. After all, they are the product of a scientific experiment and, moreover, an experiment never performed before.
"The top priority for everyone working on the space station is the safety of the crew on board," said Dickes. Some cookies will be reserved for review. For the rest, the taste test will be at the baker's discretion.
For astronauts who choose to eat cookies, the real question will be whether the taste is as good as what you find in any DoubleTree here on Earth. While the proof is in the pudding, Dickes has high hopes.
"You need to start with great ingredients, which we know we're doing because we eat a lot of these cookies," she said. "I think they will look different – like a more spherical form of bubbles, which honestly looks sticky and delicious."
But in case the first batch didn't become edible, a can of pre-baked DoubleTree cookies was sent to the space station along with the oven.
The shape of the cookie may be perfect for this experiment, but that's not the only reason it was chosen for the maiden zero-gravity kiln trip.
"It's a symbol of hospitality and we're trying to make space travel more hospitable for the future," said Dickes. "A cookie represents the perfect symbol of everything we are trying to do in this mission."
Oh yes, and it's delicious.