Deliveries to the International Space Station usually carry scientific experiments and routine supplies for the crew manning Earth's outpost in space. But this latest shipment included a treat among the scientific goodies: real ice cream.
Several dozen ice cream cups and bars of a variety of flavors were stowed away on the SpaceX capsule launched this week to dock with the International Space Station, reports Laurel Wamsley and James Delahoussaye of NPR. And this wasn't the freeze-dried variety, which actually was only ever taken to space aboard one Apollo mission 40 years ago.
While NASA takes great care to give its astronauts a wide variety of food options—even sending them turkey and cobbler for Thanksgiving—authentic ice cream must be kept frozen. But freezer space is limited, and the necessities for life science experiments (such as plants or microbe samples) and biologic samples from the crew (blood, urine and more) already occupy the the ISS ice chest.
Occasionally, however, the astronauts get the chance to partake in frozen dairy deliciousness. In 2006, the space shuttle Atlantis flew a freezer intended to be installed on the space station. Rather than send it up empty, NASA decided to pack it with cups of Blue Bell ice cream.
The invention of SpaceX's reusable Dragon space capsule opened up more frozen possibilities, since NASA could now send and receive chilled items from the ISS. The first resupply mission sent to the station in 2012 also included a sweet frozen Blue Bell treat.
This latest SpaceX mission, carrying more than 6,000 pounds of scientific gear and supplies, similarly had some free space in its three freezers. So up goes the ice cream, reports Rae Paoletta for Gizmodo. Three flavor choices were included: chocolate, vanilla and birthday-cake, NASA spokeswoman Kathryn Hambleton tells Paoletta.
The astronauts won't have long to enjoy that ice cream. As NPR reports, the Dragon capsule is planned to only be docked with the ISS for a few weeks, and its freezers will need to be carefully filled with scientific samples for a return journey to Earth.
In addition to ice cream, the astronauts received a group of mice as part of a study on why developing vision problems is common among male astronauts, while protein crystals will be used to study the onset of Parkinson's disease, reports the Associated Press. But including treats like ice cream in all the serious scientific work, helps give astronauts an mental boost so they can hopefully lick any problem that comes their way.