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Astronauts discover how to bake the perfect cookie in space

Astronauts on board the International Space Station have made pizza and grown vegetables in recent years. And now they’ve baked their own cookies, too.

The crew made the cookies over the holiday period in what was described as the first-ever baking experiment in space. Last week, the results of that experiment — ie. fully formed, oven-baked, chocolate chip cookies — returned to Earth to be prodded and poked (and possibly pecked at) by scientists in a laboratory.

Baked using raw ingredients, the test sought to put an experimental oven through its paces as NASA works toward developing various methods for astronauts to take care of their own food needs during future — and very lengthy — crewed missions to Mars and beyond.

A cookie baked on the space station.
One of the cookies inside a plastic pouch. Christina Koch/NASA

The Oven

The prototype Zero G Oven used to bake the cookies is cylinder-shaped and uses electric heat, similar to a toaster. It’s the work of NanoRacks, a Texas-based company that develops products and offers services for the commercial utilization of space, and Zero G Kitchen, a New York-based startup with the goal of creating essential kitchen appliances for space travel.

The experiment aimed to explore the safety implications of cooking common and widely consumed foods in space, NASA said, and at the same time compare the effects of baking in a microgravity environment to baking on Earth. NASA also noted that astronauts may experience “psychological and physiological benefits” from eating certain kinds of food, with something as yummy as a chocolate chip cookie sure to go down a treat.

Cooking time

According to the Associated Press (AP), the cookies, which were baked one by one in the Zero G Oven, needed two hours to properly cook — far longer than it takes in a regular Earth-based oven.

The first piece of cookie dough stayed in the oven for 25 minutes at 300 degrees Fahrenheit (149 degrees Celsius), which turned out to be too little time. The two that followed went in for around 50 minutes, but even this wasn’t long enough.

The fourth one stayed in the oven for a full two hours, with this one actually resembling a proper cookie when it came out. For the fifth and final effort, the oven temperature was increased to 325 degrees F (163 degrees C) for a baking time of 2 hours and 10 minutes. This one was the best of the bunch.

“There’s still a lot to look into to figure out really what’s driving that difference, but [it’s] definitely a cool result,” NanoRacks’ Mary Murphy told the AP, adding that overall it was a “pretty awesome first experiment.”

Despite the obvious temptation, the astronauts resisted gobbling up the cookies, instead placing them inside special plastic pouches before freezing them ahead of their journey back to Earth aboard a SpaceX vehicle last week.

Once the scientists are done with their research (which must surely include a taste test), one of the special cookies will be put on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.

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