February 17, 2012
When your slice of bread falls on the floor, everyone anxiously looks to see if it landed jelly side up or jelly side down. Simple probability gives a 50-50 chance either way, but it seems more correlated to the difficulty of cleaning that particular section of flooring.
On space station the probabilities are still the same, but the results are different. I fumbled my bread after spreading a generous layer of my favorite concoction, peanut butter and honey. It sped toward the overhead panel and hit it before I could intervene. Fortunately, it landed jelly side out (it’s interesting how many figures of speech have gravity-oriented references), so the 50-50 odds were in my favor this time. Unfortunately, it ricocheted and sped off in a different direction. I noticed that the angle of incidence equaled the angle of reflection. My earth-honed intuition anticipated a different motion, so I was not able to keep up with the errant slice. Like a real-life version of the game “asteroids,” it went on to hit a second panel. Jelly side was out again, so the 50-50 statistics were still in my favor. One more time my hand was lagging the trajectory. Like failing to flip heads three times in a row, the third collision was jelly side in, which immediately halted all motion. And just like on Earth, the outcome seemed related to the difficulty of cleaning the landing zone. After having hit two easy-to-clean aluminum panels, it landed on a white fabric covering on a patch of Velcro pile.
The fatalist in me accepts the inevitable Zero-G result of landing jelly side “down,” so I decided to make sure the probability would always be 100%. Realizing that the bread is merely a vehicle for conveying peanut butter and honey, I decided to spread it on both sides. In weightlessness, it’s easy to balance your slice on its edge so that it can be parked on the galley table without any fuss. And the result is pure tastebud heaven. I do it this way because I am in space, and I can.