This Side of the Pond – July 5

By Sarah Pridgeon

I’ve mentioned before that Britain was late to the Space Race party and is still struggling to match the stellar achievements of our American cousins. For this reason, I am pleased to report that an object from my homeland is (probably) now (somewhere) in orbit of this planet.

I say object rather than person because I’m not talking about the whopping seven Brits who’ve made it past the upper atmosphere. We got started a few years after everyone else with Helen Sharman in 1991 and have so far finished with Tim Peake, the first of us to join the crew of the International Space Station.

Statistically speaking, that’s not a lot of Brits to have donned a spacesuit. In fact, we’ve sent more edible goods into space than we have human beings. Yes, you did read that right.

This June, to great fanfare, an elementary school in Derbyshire added to Britain’s space fleet by launching a Bakewell pudding to the edges of the atmosphere, attached to a high altitude balloon. It’s not entirely clear what prompted them to attach a jam and frangipane tart to their homemade spacecraft, so I’m going to put it in the category of “inexplicable ideas had by children” and assume it was left over in somebody’s lunch box on the afternoon of the experiment.

The intrepid group of younglings kept track of their traveling dessert with devices attached to the balloon and watched as it soared to a height of ten miles. Unfortunately, that’s the last time anybody saw it.

The plan was apparently to analyze the tart once it came back down in order to answer such important questions as: would it be frozen? And could anybody eat it? As we all know from our school days, there will always be at least one pupil willing to investigate the second conundrum, if only for the joy of the squeals from all their classmates.

Teacher hasn’t lost hope, however, because somebody did find their practice balloon on a beach in Skegness and used the contact details (presumably sewn into the back of its pants) to let the school know. But until that happens, we can only assume that Earth has gained its most delicious satellite to date.

As a nation, we are developing a reputation for extra-orbital edibles. Someone at SpaceX is apparently a fan of Monty Python and chose to honor the British classic by adding a wheel of Le Brouere cheese to the Dragon capsule that famously made the first ever successful landing on re-entry.

They didn’t tell anyone there was dairy on board until the capsule had landed because they didn’t want to overshadow the achievement. The bit that I’m unclear on is how exactly this stunt was paying tribute to Monty Python’s cheese shop sketch.

The whole point of that skit, if you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing it, is that the cheese shop doesn’t have any cheese. So was there really a wheel on board, or was there even a capsule at all? That’s one for the conspiracy theorists, methinks.

Meanwhile, over in Wigan, the World Pie Eating Championship of 2016 was celebrated in a unique manner when a meat and potato pie was launched into space. I can just imagine the board meeting where they came up with that one.

They were going to have to justify it, you see, and so they came up with a reason for a pie to be in space. Science needs to know if going up 100,000 feet changes the molecular structure of the pie such that it becomes quicker to eat.

I wasn’t sure who I should contact to point out that the time one’s pie would take to reach the stratosphere and return is probably greater than the time saved in the eating. I was saved the trouble on finding out that the pie eating champs only really care if a pie that’s come back from space can be gobbled down faster during the contest.

A pie company from St. Helens was commissioned to create the edible astronaut and, by all accounts, was pleased as punch to be involved. A spokesperson declared that this would be the first step in enabling mankind “to consume pies with more elegance and comfort”.

“Neither the sky, nor the pie, should be the limit,” he said.

It was speculated before launch that the brave pastry would bake to perfection at superheated temperatures on the way back down. It did not.

This feat of human engineering was achieved by a British company called Sent Into Space, which specializes in sending things that were never meant to be astronauts to a place they will never get used. You can hire this team of geniuses to market your product or for any other near-space reason you can think of.

Such as the famous brand of whiskey that played an April Fool on its customers by claiming it was launching a brand that had been aged in space and hired this company to create the “proof”. They’ve also sent vodka and champagne up to astonishing heights, as well as a Cornish pasty, a tray of fish and chips and even a pancake to celebrate Shrove Tuesday.

I think we know where NASA should turn to feed its astronauts when they finally head for Mars – we’d have no trouble figuring out how to catapult a few roast dinners to the red planet. At the very least, I think we know which nation will open the very first restaurant in space.