What did you get for Christmas? Hopefully something good, something seedy and something spacey! 

Astronauts on the ISS baked cookies for Santa! They used the new Zero G oven to cook sample cookies, the first food to be baked in space. We were able to bake the samples, but it took a few attempts to figure out how long they had to stay in the oven.

“The oven is very, very simple to use, and I think it worked as expected.”

ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano, via The Verge
Space cookies!

Although the first three cookies “came out pretty doughy”, the last two “were nice and brown, with melted chocolate chips”. Sadly they’re not yet rated as safe for human consumption, so they’re all stored in the freezer and will be returned to Earth for analysis. 

(Neither Santa nor the astronauts missed out entirely – some pre-baked cookies were sent up with the oven for them to eat!)

Metro has a lovely photo story about Christmas in Rothera Research Station in Antarctica. Researchers there were guaranteed a white Christmas, and were able to make mince pies. They had to be very restrained not to eat their Christmas dinner early though; it arrived by ship last May!

“Travelling to Antarctica is the closest thing you’ll get to interplanetary travel while staying earth-bound,” one old Antarctic hand told me when I visited the British Antarctic Survey’s HQ in Cambridge.

The BBC‘s chief environmental correspondent, Justin Rowlatt

Two teams of scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center got a really exciting gift – Moon samples that have been sealed for fifty years. They’ll be analysing the regolith in ways that Apollo-era scientists couldn’t have dreamed about, looking for clues to how life evolved in our solar system. They will also study how eons of radiation have shaped the Moon’s surface chemistry, and how best to keep samples uncontaminated for long periods.

“The information Goddard scientists will glean will inform not only the proper storage of samples to be collected during NASA’s Artemis mission to the Moon, but also during the Mars 2020 sample-collection mission to the Red Planet, and the OSIRIS-REx mission to the asteroid Bennu, where a spacecraft will collect 60 to 2,000 grams of dirt and rocks and then deliver them to Earth in 2023.”

NASA

NASA’s Artemis program aims to land the next humans on the Moon by 2024. This time, as well as exploring the Moon, the plan is to test technologies that we can use to send humans to Mars. And there’s the Lunar Gateway, too, which will be a small space station in orbit around the Moon with living quarters for astronauts, a science lab and docking ports for visiting spacecraft.

Image credit: Lippman lab/CSHL, 2019

An international team of scientists has developed a new variety of tomato for urban agriculture and space missions. Using gene editing, they have fine-tuned the cultivar to be extremely compact and to be ready for harvest in just five weeks. NASA scientists have expressed interest in the project.

“The gene-edited tomato plants have a great small shape and size, they taste good, but of course that all depends on personal preference. The primary goal of this new research is to engineer a wider variety of crops that can be grown in urban environments or other places not suitable for plant growth.”

Prof Zach Lippman, a researcher at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, via Sci News.
LG’s new indoor gardening appliance

LG Electronics (LG) will be unveiling their new “indoor gardening appliance” at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this month. A column-style appliance, the idea is that it will stand next to your fridge. It can control light, temperature and water and offers a growth-monitoring app. 

“The advanced gardening system is capable of holding up to 24 all-in-one seed packages, containing seeds, peat moss and fertilizer and designed for immediate planting. Initial packages will include 20 different varieties including romaine and other types of lettuce, arugula, chicory and basil.”

https://twitter.com/wamelink_wieger/status/1211936114824667137?s=20

Scientists from the University of Missouri are running a trial to see if they can replicate the ‘Overview Effect‘ that astronauts experience. Rather than send people into space, they’re popping them into a flotation tank that will mimic the sensation of floating in space. A waterproof virtual reality (VR) headset will supply the visuals. 

“You want people to have that shift in perspective, to think planetary. You want them to come out and solve problems in context of the real world in its entirety, to solve multi-generational problems, not slap band-aids on things.”

Former NASA astronaut Ron Garan, via the Guardian
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American schoolkids are investigating how to raise chickens on Mars, through the Nuggets on Mars program. It’s the brainchild of NC State poultry professor Matt Koci, who met with NASA researchers to work on lesson plans for the project.

The kids began by growing grains to feed the chickens, then learned about the challenges of living on Mars. They hatched chickens and raised them, and then developed model chicken coops that could be used on the Red Planet.

“Now we’ll use 3-D printers to make the coops. We’ll show what the kids have learned — how to apply earth techniques to Mars.”

Sarah Moore, lead teacher on the project, in the Courier-Tribune.

Oh, and Mars now has a ‘national’ anthem!

Front Range Biosciences cell cultures

There’s been quite a lot of press about SpaceX sending plant cultures of coffee and hemp to the ISS. SpaceX is providing the rocket, but the plants are being sent aloft by agricultural biotech company Front Range Biosciences. Apparently, they breed “genetically consistent hemp and coffee varieties”, and will be launching more than 480 plant cell cultures in a space incubator in March.

“This is the first time anyone is researching the effects of microgravity and spaceflight on hemp and coffee cell cultures. There is science to support the theory that plants in space experience mutations. This is an opportunity to see whether those mutations hold up once brought back to earth and if there are new commercial applications.”

Jonathan Vaught, co-founder and CEO of Front Range Biosciences, via Vice

The cell cultures will spend a month in space before being returned to earth for DNA analysis. Space Tango sent the first hemp seeds into space last year, although the results from that experiment aren’t yet published.

And as it’s New Year, we’ll end this week’s GoffW with a story about the different cultural attitudes towards booze in space.

“What is clear is that cognac played an important ceremonial role in helping to create bonds between crew members from the United States and Russia. This contribution should not be dismissed, since it came at a critical time for space exploration and for relations between the two rival superpowers.”

Chris Carberry, author of Alcohol in Space: Past, Present and Future

Cheers!