Bread conquering space, remember?

Eating in zero gravity is not always a piece of cake! Discover how Lesaffre participated in a successfully executed cosmic challenge to satisfy the palates of Russian and French astronauts…

Let’s go back to 2001 when space tourism became a commercial reality with Dennis Tito finally realizing his dream aboard a Soyuz spacecraft on his way to the International Space Station (ISS). We’ve come a long way since the first living being (Laika the dog) in November 1957, followed by the first primate (the chimpanzee Ham) in January 1961, and finally the famous Yuri Gagarin in April of the same year.

Ten years later (April 1971), the first space station was launched, opening a new era. Beyond scientific and technical achievements, the physical and psychological well-being of astronauts had to be considered. The duration of space flights increased, morale was put to the test, and interpersonal tensions rose. In this context, the quality of meals became a powerful lever.

In June 1982, Jean-Loup Chrétien became the first French astronaut to travel to space . From this experience, he retained (among other things) a gastronomic frustration that the psychologists at Baikonur took very seriously to the point of launching a call for proposals to provide astronauts with “comfort” products that would be served once a week.


A unique cosmic bread recipe

In 1988, Lesaffre responded to this culinary challenge with the objective of providing bread for the Franco-Russian Aragatz mission aboard Soyuz TM-7 (a planned 24-day mission on board the Mir space station). The CNES (French National Center for Space Studies) and the SCERCAT (Central Service for Studies and Realization of the Army) defined an ambitious specification: a crumb-free bread (due to zero gravity), bite-sized, and stable over time (without microbiological or organoleptic alterations, including flavor, smell, color, and consistency, for at least 2 months).

It took Lesaffre nearly a year of development to create “mini-buns” individually packaged in units of 6, weighing 7g each. Each unit measured 4cm in diameter and 1.5cm in height. The coordinated work led by the Development Division at the time involved multiple trials to offer a flavorful bread with no health risks and perfect preservation. In August 1988, the first selection took place in France, followed by Russia, and the validated version of the cosmic bread was scheduled to be onboard the flight between November 26th and December 21st of the same year.

And guess which yeast was used for this remarkable project? The Saf-instant yeast, of course, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year!


Exceptional outcomes

Even Pierre Cardin (owner of Maxim’s restaurant at the time) had the opportunity to savor this cosmic bread during a tasting of space dishes. It was an additional challenge successfully met by Lesaffre’s team, with gratitude expressed by both the French and Soviet teams for this small pleasure from France. The media coverage was impressive.

Beyond this adventure, what remains of this experience? It serves as a reference for “extreme” long-lasting bread (for sports achievements, special forces’ nutrition…) where food safety, portability, preservation, and enjoyment must be reconciled. It is also a model for snack products ahead of its time (individual portions, no crumbs, easily transportable, consumable without utensils…). Very similar products are now manufactured in China (individual portion “brioche” mini-buns that can be preserved for up to 6 months) sold as snack products and called “little French bread,” creating a connection with our space bread in the land of baguettes?