But with a nice bonus, the International Space Station smelled like hot, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies during the December experiment. On December 26, NASA astronaut Christina Koch tweeted that she had space cookies and milk available for Santa Claus at the station.
“I can smell it,” said Luca Parmitano, an astronaut from the European Space Agency and master baker of biscuits during the experiment. “And I watch the melting chocolate. But it certainly doesn’t look like a cookie dough anymore.”
Everything that brings the feeling of home is a great gift for astronauts, especially those who have spent their holidays in space. Parmitano recently talked about how, despite having Santa’s hats, socks and a small Christmas tree on the station, it is nothing compared to spending time with their families and enjoying good food and traditions together.
To design the oven, they had to overcome problems such as lack of gravity – which also affects the ability to keep food safe and secure – and a limited power supply for the oven.
It is composed of an elegant cylindrical chamber which houses an insertable silicone frame, which surrounds the food to hold it in place. The cylindrical heating coils focus the heat on the food in the center of the chamber and increase the temperature much more slowly than traditional ovens, to meet the power constraints.
Parmitano baked the dough one cookie at a time, and Koch kept an eye on the progress of the cookies.
The astronauts tested the temperatures and cooking times with the five biscuits. And they learned that cooking in space takes a long time.
The first four biscuits were baked at 300 degrees for 25 minutes, 75 minutes and 120 minutes, respectively. The fifth biscuit was baked at 325 degrees for 130 minutes and cooled out of the oven for ten minutes.
The shorter cooking time revealed that the biscuit was undercooked. At 75 minutes, the aroma of freshly baked cookies started filling the space station. The the fourth and fifth biscuits, with longer cooking times, were considered the most successful.
The biscuits have also kept their spherical shape, just like they do on Earth.
“While we have initial visual and olfactory feedback from the crew on board the ISS, we are excited to dive into a full understanding of the cooking results, including analyzing why cooking time and temperature in space vary from what we are used to to see La Terra, as if the pan, designed specifically for microgravity, had an impact on the final shape of the baked biscuits, “said Mary Murphy, senior senior payload manager with Nanoracks.
The biscuits that have been returned to Earth will be tested by food science professionals. They will likely head to museum collections, such as the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
Kirsi Goldynia contributed to this report.