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Houston, we have… bake off! Astronauts make first cookies in space

IT’S one small step for man, and one giant leap for baked goods — as chocolate chip cookies have become the first food to be baked in space.

The round biscuits, made to hotel chain DoubleTree by Hilton’s signature recipe, were prepared in a special oven on board the International Space Station, led by commander Luca Parmitano and astronaut Christina Koch.

And it was a real labour of love, taking several days of experimenting, with each cookie baked separately to determine the optimum temperature.

The average DoubleTree chocolate chip cookie bakes in a convection oven, with a continuous cycle of hot air rising and cool air moving in to take its place, for 16-18 minutes at around 148C (300F) on Earth.

But nobody knew how long the process would take in orbit, where there is no ‘up’ direction for hot air to float towards.

Using a specially designed oven, with heating elements around the entire interior to distribute heat evenly and develop a pocket of air in the cooking chamber, the astronauts were directed to adjust the bake time for each of the five cookies — the first four at 148C and the fifth at 163C (325F) — in order to ascertain the ideal conditions in space.

The first cookie baked for 25 minutes but was still under-cooked, while the second finally released a fresh-baked cookie scent after 75 minutes.

The astronauts deemed the fourth and fifth cookies — one baked for 120 minutes and left to cool for 25 minutes, and the other baked for 130 minutes and left cooling for 10 minutes — as the most successful.

While it was thought that without gravity the cookies would be more spherical, the initial shape and consistency appeared the same in space as they are on Earth.

Mary Murphy, senior internal payloads manager at NanoRacks, which designed the oven in partnership with microgravity appliance creator Zero G Kitchen, said: ‘While we have initial visual and scent feedback from the crew aboard the ISS, we’re excited to dive into fully understanding the baking results.’

Three of the snacks, as well as other experiments and cargo, returned to Earth on the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft on January 7, which had launched on November 2.

The cookies will soon undergo additional testing by food science professionals to determine the final results of the experiment, which will help experts with future efforts to make long-haul space travel more enjoyable.

Shawn McAteer, senior vice-president at DoubleTree by Hilton, said: ‘The innovation displayed throughout this experiment and emphasis on making long-duration space travel more hospitable underscores our ongoing commitment to ensuring guests always have a comfortable stay — wherever they may travel.’