(CBS) — An upgraded Northrop Grumman Antares rocket roared to life and vaulted into orbit Saturday for a flight to deliver 3.7 tons of crew supplies and equipment to the International Space Station. The Cygnus supply ship launched atop the Antares is carrying gear needed for up to five complex spacewalks to revive an ailing $2 billion particle physics experiment.
It is also carrying a wide variety of research hardware and experiment samples, 14 small satellites, and a prototype vest designed to shield astronauts on deep space missions from dangerous space radiation.
Also on board: a compact oven that will be used to bake the first cookies in orbit.
The stated goal is to find out whether baking is even possible in the weightless environment of space, looking ahead to eventual multi-year missions to Mars and beyond when astronauts will no doubt welcome more variety in their menus.
Only one cookie at a time can be baked in the compact oven, and no one knows what the chocolate chip treats will look like when they’re done. In the absence of gravity to hold a cookie on its baking sheet, the dough on board the station will be suspended in a special holder and mounted in the center of a cylindrical oven chamber.
“When you bake here on the ground, you put the cookie on the tray, the bottom is flat and the top is a little bit curved based on the ratio of your ingredients,” said Mary Murphy, an engineer with Nanoracks, which worked with Zero G Kitchen to develop the oven. “But obviously, nobody’s done this in space, so we don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like.”
“It could come out more like a cylinder, it could actually create a sphere. We really don’t know, and I think that’s one of the more exciting things we’ll find out.”
No matter what shape the morsels might take, the chance to bake up a batch of chocolate chip cookies – using dough provided by Hilton’s DoubleTree hotel chain – will be a clear treat for the space station’s six-member crew. They will be treated to the taste – and smell – of fresh-baked cookies.
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