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A Brief History of Pizza in Space

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Most astronauts would probably love to enjoy a slice of pizza in the final frontier. Unfortunately, serving pizza in low-earth orbit is a fairly difficult task, but this hasn’t stopped a few hungry astronauts from trying over the years.

According to Vickie Kloeris, a food scientist employed at the Johnson Space Center, pizza isn’t likely to join the ranks of more conventional NASA cuisine anytime soon. Crumbs are the main culprit: Imagine hundreds of itty-bitty bread particles whizzing around sensitive equipment in reduced gravity. “You can’t get a crispy crust,” she says. “It’s always soggy or chewy.”

But in 2001, Pizza Hut decided to take one giant leap for mankind by becoming the first company to make a delivery to the International Space Station. “This [is a] mission to boldly go where no pizza has gone before,” boasted marketing officer Randy Gier.

This stellar marketing stunt was made possible with the help of several Russian food scientists who collaborated with Pizza Hut to produce a space-ready six-inch cheese and salami pie (pepperoni lacked the necessary shelf-life). Nearly a year after the project began, one very special pan pizza was brought to the Station, warmed in its oven, and handed to Russian cosmonaut Yury Usachev, who gave the effort a solid thumbs-up.

Since then, other companies have followed suit and sent their own pizzas into orbit, albeit with the use of very different tools. In 2012, the Lithuanian chain Cili celebrated its 15th anniversary by strapping a ham and vegetable pie to a meteorological balloon and filming its journey out of Earth’s atmosphere.

The very next year, the feat was repeated by a rock band called “Anamaguchi"—this time with a slice of New York City’s inimitable pizza, as a way to promote their new album Endless Fantasy. If you’d like to see the resulting footage, check out this clip (skip to the 9:30-mark for the actual launch):

In May 2013, NASA partnered with Systems & Materials Research Corporation to develop a machine that could forever change the dining options of hungry, hungry astronauts: the 3-D food printer.

This revolutionary device stores an array of fats, proteins, scents, and other ingredients which are then spat out in a predetermined order to create various entrees. Since pizza consists of homogenous layers stacked directly atop each other, it was the perfect candidate for some of the incredible machine’s earliest tests. 

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Vanilla and French Vanilla Ice Cream?
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While you’re browsing the ice cream aisle, you may find yourself wondering, “What’s so French about French vanilla?” The name may sound a little fancier than just plain ol’ “vanilla,” but it has nothing to do with the origin of the vanilla itself. (Vanilla is a tropical plant that grows near the equator.)

The difference comes down to eggs, as The Kitchn explains. You may have already noticed that French vanilla ice cream tends to have a slightly yellow coloring, while plain vanilla ice cream is more white. That’s because the base of French vanilla ice cream has egg yolks added to it.

The eggs give French vanilla ice cream both a smoother consistency and that subtle yellow color. The taste is a little richer and a little more complex than a regular vanilla, which is made with just milk and cream and is sometimes called “Philadelphia-style vanilla” ice cream.

In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered in 2010—when Baskin-Robbins decided to eliminate French Vanilla from its ice cream lineup—ice cream industry consultant Bruce Tharp noted that French vanilla ice cream may date back to at least colonial times, when Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both used ice cream recipes that included egg yolks.

Jefferson likely acquired his taste for ice cream during the time he spent in France, and served it to his White House guests several times. His family’s ice cream recipe—which calls for six egg yolks per quart of cream—seems to have originated with his French butler.

But everyone already knew to trust the French with their dairy products, right?

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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science
Belly Flop Physics 101: The Science Behind the Sting
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Belly flops are the least-dignified—yet most painful—way of making a serious splash at the pool. Rarely do they result in serious physical injury, but if you’re wondering why an elegant swan dive feels better for your body than falling stomach-first into the water, you can learn the laws of physics that turn your soft torso a tender pink by watching the SciShow’s video below.

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