Making the Perfect Astronaut Snack: Bald Space Simit
I spent my childhood in the Bursa Adalet neighbourhood until the first grade of primary school. Our house was next to the airport, and of course, my other two aunts’ houses were too… At that time, our greatest pleasure was to watch the people jumping with parachutes, and to blow up little toy rockets if we could manage to buy them. One day, while I was at my aunt’s, they blew up a little rocket on the street. When I knowingly told my coolest cousin Orhan, “These are small, I will buy American rockets, they went to space first.”, he asked me, “What about Yuri Gagarin?” What about him? Who even is he?
Of course, no one in our house knew that a Russian man was the first to go to space, but all the families of my Bulgarian immigrant friends in the neighbourhood knew about him. Even though I didn’t even remember his name, I was telling them how he was a “Russian man” in shock, while they were all saying, “Who doesn’t know about Yuri Gagarin?”. Every time I saw this statue while I was studying in Moscow, it reminded me of my childhood. The Russians went to space first, you know?
Yuri Gagarin spent 1 hour and 48 minutes in space. So, I don’t know what Gagarin ate, but in 1965, on the Gemini 3 mission, John Young was interrogated for secretly bringing bread and a tin of beef in the shuttle. But why? Do they not eat, should they starve? Why is a sandwich a problem? When John took out the sandwich and wanted to eat it, he saw the crumbs of bread flying around. The co-pilot warned him right away, “Put it in your pocket, John.” He said “Well, apparently it wasn’t a good idea.” and he put the bread in his pocket… The co-pilot was congratulated for saving the crew from the possibility of crumbs causing a disaster in the electronics or getting into the nose or windpipe of these fellows while they were asleep, and John was reprimanded. By the way, that bread has been exhibited in resin in the museum established in the name of co-pilot Gus Grisson in Indiana, USA for 50 years.
In 1970, Russian cosmonauts managed to stay in space the longest until that time, for 18 days. The bread they ate during this time was slices of hard, firm black rye bread, because it did not crumble. Since they were going to develop a joint flight with the French in 1988, the French tried to find bread suitable for their own palate, and Lesaffre, a famous French yeast company, was asked to do research. Lesaffre found that as the assist level of the bread increased, the crumbs decreased, so they prepared 23 gr pieces of bread made with sourdough. But instead of 23 gr, the Russians produced 4.5 gr of cooked rye and 3 gr of white bread so that there is no risk of crumbs. One bite. Isn’t it a fantastic, practical idea?
There is a very remarkable person in all these studies, and that is Rita Rapp. A woman’s touch to the space kitchen. This scientist, who later received an Exceptional Service Medal from NASA, worked very hard with dietitians and the Whirlpool company. With Whirlpool, she did some outstanding work in various areas; from stacking food in space to the development of utensils used in production. And with dietitians, she managed to write down a suitable menu, which she created by investigating the best sellers of the time and by asking the astronauts about their preferences. But Rita’s most famous product is sugar cookie cubes. These cookies were such a big hit, they were even used as money among astronauts. I think you’ll understand why they struggled so much when you see how they eat in space, and considering how expensive it is to get stuff onboard… The table you see here is magnetic and they must be very, very organized. Rita prepared meals for each astronaut individually and color-coded them to avoid mess, crumbs, and trash. Her system is now used by many food companies. Later, the Americans were inspired by the famous TexMex kitchens to avoid crumbs. They produced crumb-free tortillas. Apart from the astronauts enjoying sandwiches, they saved space and eliminated the expiration date problem because the wide cooking surface delayed mold growth, and the aluminized packages preserved the freshness for a longer period of time. This is the reason why the dining table is magnetic. There are tiny magnets in the packaging as well.
When the effort for the ISS (International Space Station) started, Germans came into play. Of course, things change when it comes to the Germans. Germans produce so many kinds of bread and they must have thought, “The bread you make won’t work.” when they were about to go to space, so they came up with the idea of warm bread, or at least fresh bread in space. Well, they must have thought that the road to Mars would be unbearable with the bread made before, so they established the Bake in Space company. This is actually a crazy idea. Okay, let’s take flour, water, salt, some sourdough, if it’s not enough, we also take yeast, and let’s say we even have lots of water. Well, the biggest issue is the oven. Let’s say they are German, they must’ve found a solution for that too, but what are we going to do when there is no gravity? Since there is no gravity, if you preheat the oven to bring it to 200-220 degrees, when you open the oven door that hot mass will come out of the oven as a whole and burn whoever God has blessed. Also, how will the dough in it stay stable? It will wander around and probably hit random places. I told you things change when Germans come into play. They really made it. They produced a low-voltage oven that heats all surfaces up to a maximum of 45 degrees and provides vacuum cooking. It is designed to make all meals hot or on the go. The first reaction of the astronauts who heard this was “You can’t even imagine how happy a warm piece of bread will make us there”. In the meantime, they sent sour yeast bacteria from the Earth to the space base to be used during space travels. They’re trying to determine what types of bacteria will survive there and produce a space-specific sourdough. I’ll eat my hat if some bread coming from space, which is made of sourdough, doesn’t become popular soon.
So why are these guys trying so hard for 3-5 or 50 space people? Aren’t these long-lasting pieces of bread costly? Moreover, the systems developed for them to be so hygienic cannot be effortless and economical at the same time. That’s just not how it is. This bread you see lasts for exactly 7 years. A South Korean company produced this bread. It is designed for times such as natural disasters, war, etc. All the hygiene systems used in its production are systems developed at NASA. HACCP, BRC, etc…
Have we tried producing such durable bread in Turkey? Yes, Tübitak worked on this issue for the soldiers because the bread coming from abroad did not suit our soldiers’ palates. When the bread is packaged in these special 3-layer plastic bags called “Retort Pouch”, they last for at least 2 years. In addition to complying with extremely strict hygiene rules at all stages of production, the bags in are closed under vacuum and sterilized in devices called “autoclaves” under high pressure. This sterilization process extends the expiry date of the products. If you notice, instead of being sent to space, these methods are used not only for bread but also for meals on market shelves, for you to consume at home.
Well, if you’re a Gagarin fan and a Turkish baker like me, how would you make bread in space? I think the Russians are right; it should be a one-biter. The French are right too; it should be made with sourdough, and well, I’m right too; it should be like both bread and “simit”. Considering it shouldn’t have any crumbs… There, I found it: Bald Space Simit!
1 g dry yeast
60 g water
2 g salt
100 g flour
35 g liquid rye sourdough
We sterilize the kneading bowl with vinegar and put all the ingredients in the bowl. We mix until it becomes a shiny dough. The dough is very small, so kneading takes at least 1.5 times longer than the normal amount. The dough is left to rest for 1 hour. Be sure to cover it with cling film before it goes to sleep. We cut the dough into 4-gram pieces so that the cooked ones end up weighing 3.5 grams. Then we wait another 30 minutes. We stretch the dough, and it waits for 15 minutes like this. The reason why we are constantly waiting is that there is a very high amount of sourdough with high acidity in the dough. I specifically use a silicone container. I do not want to use Teflon etc. or oil at all, so the moulding time will be prolonged. These little ones are waiting for 3 hours like this. We put them in the oven at 240 degrees Celsius. In bread baking, dough weight and oven temperature are inversely proportional. As the weight increases, the temperature should decrease. Or vice versa, as the dough weight decreases, the degree of cooking should increase. Our three-and-a-half-gram bald space simits are ready! We sterilize and vacuum at high temperatures with a great vacuum bag. What I’m wondering is, when will we sell something created in Turkey instead of buying all these products; products that these people created and patented while preparing meals for 3 or 5, or 20 or 30 people? Will there be a person who craves a simit in space? How advanced will our technology become? I am curious about your opinions!