What's more dangerous in space than, say, an alien? It's bread. We're not joking. Some 50 years ago, according to New Scientist, two astronauts sneaked a corned beef sandwich onboard NASA's 1965 Gemini 3, and without gravity, the bread crumbs went wild. They could have harmed the astronauts—getting into their eyes, for example—or caused a crash by ruining the electrical panels or starting a fire. And bread has been banned from spacecraft ever since.
Several scientists, working under the project name Baked In Space, are trying to change that. Led by founder Sebastian Marcu, the team is determined to develop a crumb-free bread that astronauts can not only eat in space, but bake there, too.
The scientists believe fresh-baked bread could significantly improve the lives of astronauts—as any carb-addict can readily understand. As they explain online, "besides a source for nutrition, the smell of fresh bread evokes memories of general happiness. ... It is a symbol of recreational time and procedure down on Earth."
So, they're creating a "typical weekend German bread roll" that can be baked and enjoyed—danger-free—on the International Space Station. And it should be ready to pop into a specially-made oven in time for a April 2018 mission to the station.
It's a challenge. Thanks to space limitations, the oven must operate at 250 watts, which is about a tenth of the power of earth-bound ovens. The scientist who's in charge of designing the oven, Matthias Boehme, is exploring vacuum baking, which would allow the bread to rise at lower temperatures. "According to our baking experts, the process would also make bread rolls more fluffy," he told New Scientist.
Plus, the dough itself must yield a crumb-free bread that astronauts will actually want to eat. "This is the biggest challenge," admits Florian Stukenborg, the scientist in charge of the dough. It must be chewy and palatable, but not crunchy or flaky.
The scientists will be able to test their tools and recipes in space on the European Space Agency's Horizon mission to the station in April 2018. They'll watch the team bake bread through video feeds inside the oven. With any success, the scientists say, they could soon develop other breads, like sourdough, for space, and sell the rolls and loaves on earth. "We could sell original space rolls in bakeries," Boehme said. And you thought fresh bread was out of this world to begin with.
This story originally appeared on Foodandwine.com.