While bread is currently banned on the International Space Station, it will soon make its way back into astronauts’ diets thanks to Bake in Space, a German project aimed at developing a bread maker and dough that can safely be used in microgravity, as New Scientist and Atlas Obscura report.
The culinary staple is currently banned from space missions because in space, crumbs can be dangerous. Currently, if an astronaut wants a PB&J, they have to use a tortilla.
Bake in Space hopes to develop a system that can make fresh German-style bread rolls in microgravity, giving space travelers a semblance of Earthly normalcy at dinnertime. As missions to far-flung destinations like Mars become more plausible, astronauts will need to be able to feed themselves for years on end, and being able to make a fresh loaf of bread would be a lot more pleasant for a homesick crew than exclusively eating pre-packaged space food.
Bread hasn’t always been absent from space missions. A contraband sandwich on the 1965 Gemini 3 mission caused a major incident. Astronaut John Young had surreptitiously brought a corned beef sandwich onto the flight in his spacesuit. When he took it out for a bite, little bits of rye bread began floating throughout the cabin. It didn’t cause a disaster, but the crumbs could have gotten into a crewmember’s eye or into delicate equipment in the spacecraft.
Young quickly put the sandwich back into his pocket, but he got an earful about it when he returned to Earth. The U.S. House of Representatives appropriations committee held a meeting about the incident, in part because congressmen were upset that the astronauts were smuggling food into space instead of testing out the high-tech food that had been developed especially for them.
Bread did make it back into space, but it wasn’t your average loaf. While Apollo astronauts made sandwiches and ate bite-sized cinnamon bread, the bread was coated in a layer of gelatin to prevent it from crumbling. The NASA photograph above is from the 1985 Discovery space shuttle.
Bake in Space is working with engineers, food scientists, and Earth-bound bakers to develop its space bread, which is scheduled for testing on a 2018 European Space Agency trip to the International Space Station. The company has yet to develop a recipe, though, and is still working out how it will be made. The loaves will need to balance out the need for crumble-free bread with astronauts’ understandable desire not to eat rock-hard rolls. Somehow, they’ll have to come up with a way to make a fluffy bread that will remain crumb-free.
[h/t Atlas Obscura]