Cookie for astronauts took months to develop
NASA astronauts Michael Good (left) and Garrett Reisman, both STS-132 mission specialists, look through the aft flight deck windows of space shuttle Atlantis in this image provided by NASA during the mission's third and final session of extravehicular activity Friday May 21, 2010 as construction and maintenance continue on the International Space Station. (AP Photo/NASA)
The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, July 1, 2010 7:37AM EDT
MONTREAL - It may take your mother or grandmother one hour -- tops -- to make and bake a batch of oatmeal cookies. But it took several months to develop Canasnacks -- cream-filled sandwich cookies that first went into space with now-retired Canadian astronaut Dave Williams in 2007.
And it wasn't as easy as pie to create a healthy and nutritious space cookie: it had to be NASA-approved, tasty and, most importantly, be made from Canadian ingredients.
Access to Information documents obtained by The Canadian Press reveal the Canasnacks were the first step in a detailed proposal to develop "Nutritious Foods for Space Travellers."
The project began in December 2006 when the Canadian Space Agency commissioned Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to create a one-day menu for astronauts on board the International Space Station.
The CSA kicked in $65,000, while Agriculture Canada's contribution was budgeted at almost $350,000.
The plan for a Canadian space menu for astronauts has since been put on hold, but the Canasnacks got the good housekeeping seal and were shipped up to the space station on three shuttle flights.
Researchers first got down to serious work in February 2007 on what was originally called the "CANookie."
That's when it was agreed to develop "a bite-size oatmeal cookie which would be round in shape to avoid sharp edges and reduce the possibility of crumbling."
Crumbs could float around and get into equipment on the space station.
Cookie developers at a research facility in St-Hyacinthe, Que., looked at various sandwich possibilities and decided that the fillings in a package of five cookies would contain a variety of maple, blueberry and cranberry cream -- ingredients considered representative of Canada.
A power point presentation to NASA officials in Houston in April 2007 revealed that 37 suppliers were involved and more than 100 combinations of possible ingredients were tested and evaluated.
At one point, a worried project manager expressed concern that cookie samples would be confiscated at the U.S. border while being hand-carried to the NASA food lab.
A questionnaire was circulated among project managers to decide whether all five cookies should have the Maple Leaf logo on top.
In the end, it was agreed the five cookies would indeed have the Maple Leaf, but that only one of them would be coloured red.
The cookies also had to meet NASA microbiological specifications.
It wasn't until June 1, 2007, after consultations with all those involved in the cookie caper, that the name "Canasnacks" was finally agreed upon.
There was even discussion about how to label the package of five vacuum-sealed cookies with the Maple Leaf logo on them.
It was agreed that the label would feature the round CSA logo with a "bite" taken off the top, but that also had to be approved by NASA.
The cookies were finally rolled out in mid-August 2007 during a news conference up-link with Williams and other astronauts on the space station.
Officials had hoped the Canasnacks would be unveiled on Canada Day in 2007, but that didn't happen because Williams' flight, which was originally scheduled for June, was delayed.
About a dozen packages of Canasnacks made their way up to the space station and into the hands of astronauts.
When Williams tasted the cookies, he described them as "a little bite that was out of this world."
As a result of the public's interest in Canasnacks, efforts were made to commercialize the product, which contained a total of 152 calories for the package of five cookies.
A CSA spokeswoman says a few companies expressed interest, but plans to market the Canasnacks never went any further.
Minutes of an October 2007 meeting revealed that some of the ingredients were more expensive because of the requirement that they have a Canadian source.
It was also noted that a special oven had to be purchased to bake the cookies at the research facility in St-Hyacinthe.
The minutes also said it was very labour-intensive to produce the cookies with the Maple Leaf logo because the red colouring was done by hand.