Remember when NASA launched cookie dough into space, and SYFY WIRE was there to watch in awe? Those cookies have now touched back down on Earth.
Back in November, DoubleTree by Hilton's famous cookie dough and a made-for-space oven that was a collaboration between Nanoracks and Zero-G Oven took off on Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo mission NG-12 at the NASA Wallops launch facility. As expected, the smell of baking cookies took over the entire ISS, and the astronauts were (unfortunately) not allowed to eat them. That must have been torture. Now that the cookies have landed, they might still tempt us, but have more to tell us.
“This program truly was an experiment!” Garrett Marqua, a spokesperson for DoubleTree by Hilton, told SYFY WIRE. “The initial shape and consistency of the DoubleTree chocolate chip cookies appeared the same in space as they are on Earth.”
Surprised? Maybe. There was some pre-launch speculation that the cookies would end up more spherical in an environment sans gravity. Without the force of gravity to push them down into the baking try, maybe they would end up doing some alien things. Here on terra firma, DoubleTree’s chocolate chip cookies bake in a convection oven for 16-18 minutes at 300 degrees Fahrenheit, but ISS astronauts had to adjust the bake time for each of the five cookies to determine what the ideal baking conditions would be in microgravity.
There are many contributing factors that made the cookies turn out as they did even 254 miles above ground, as explained by Nanoracks Senior Internal Payloads Manager Mary Murphy.
“Likely factors include the influence of the silicon tray against the cookie, potential differences in the temperature gradients within the cookie dough, or even starting from frozen allowing the shape to set before the baking completed,” Murphy also told SYFY WIRE. “We are still in the midst of analyzing the results, and likely, additional tests will be needed in order to know which factors are having these impacts.”
This was the first time anything raw was cooked in orbit. That explains the uncertainties behind the experiment until, but just like you would expect them to in a regular oven, the cookies browned around the edges, and the chocolate chips inside melted. There was no difference in ingredients — these are the same warm cookies you find on your bed when you stay at a DoubleTree hotel.
So what’s cooking in microgravity next? Murphy said that Nanoracks is discussing that with several different food groups, since anything that won’t fly all over the space station could be a potential candidate. Think burgers, pizza, and just about anything else that can stay in place. If you can find it in the frozen food aisle, it might end up in space someday. There may also be modifications made to the oven depending on what goes in it.
“We were overly cautious in our thermal analysis for the first use of the oven as we wanted to ensure crew safety above everything else,” Murphy explained. “Additionally, the next user of the oven may have different requirements for cooking than the team at DoubleTree by Hilton.”
With NASA opening up the ISS for commercial use, the company will be able to run multiple tests in orbit, fly hardware up and back, and develop new upgrades of the oven. Astronauts just shouldn’t expect to have a taste.