— As it turns out, it takes a good deal of planning, patience and, well, Perseverance, to create a cake in the shape of a NASA Mars rover.
Just ask celebrity chef Duff Goldman, whose pastry-formed model of the space agency’s six-wheeled Perseverance rover made its debut Friday night (Nov. 3) at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.
“You really have to do a little bit of engineering here,” said Goldman in an interview with collectSPACE. “Because we posed it so its front tires were up on rocks, now, you’re asking the cake to do something that it’s not really designed to do, which is to live on a diagonal. So, when you are building something like this, which you know isn’t going to be flat and level, you just have to build in a little extra armature to make sure it doesn’t fall apart.”
The cake, which served (and was served) as the final course for the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s “Taste of Space: Celebrity Chef Edition” culinary event, recreates many of the details found on the real Perseverance, including its “rocker-bogie” suspension that keeps its wheels stable, even on rough terrain.
“We wanted to show how the wheels articulate and not just have it on a flat base because I think one of the most amazing things about the actual rover is that it is crawling all over a terrain that is not manmade, which presents all kinds of challenges,” said Goldman. “I think being able to show the engineering that went into creating something that can do this millions of miles away from where we built it just makes it that much more interesting.”
“Plus, showing how a suspension system on something like this works but making it out of cake was a fun challenge,” he said.
In addition to detailing the rover’s drive mechanism, Goldman and his team of three pastry artists at Charm City Cakes in Baltimore, Maryland, also sought to replicate many of Perseverance’s science instruments and tools, which have enabled it to cache geologically-interesting soil and rocks for a later Mars sample return mission.
“When you have stuff hanging off the cake, just like on the real Perseverance, you have to really give a lot of thought to the joints and where they’re connected because there is a lot more stress. So if you have its big robotic arm outstretched and it only has one point of contact, you have to make sure it’s really solid. You have to have a good connection.”
The cake, which is yellow with chocolate buttercream, took five days to make. It is the second custom creation that Goldman has baked for the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Last year, he made a towering cake in the shape of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket poised atop a mobile launch platform and supported by a service tower.
That the Perseverance cake is shorter did not make it any less difficult to recreate, said Goldman.
“They both had their challenges,” he said. “What was nice about the rover is that it had a lower profile and things that are shorter, tend to be a little more stable. Whereas something like the Artemis SLS was tall and skinny and tall, skinny things, they are easier to knock over, especially given that we are delivering these cakes from Baltimore to Florida.”
“The rover was easier to deliver, but it has a lot more parts. So we had a lot more opportunity to get a lot of details on there. That made it a little more challenging, but also made it a lot more fun,” Goldman told collectSPACE.
In addition to Goldman, who is perhaps best known as having hosted the Food Network series “Ace of Cakes,” this year’s “Taste of Space: Celebrity Chef Edition” featured chefs Esther Choi and Jon Ashton demonstrating cooking techniques along with veteran astronauts Anna Fisher, Bruce Melnick and Scott Altman. The sold-out event cost $175 per person or $499 for a limited seating, multi-course dinner prepared by the chefs.
All of the attendees enjoyed a piece of Perseverance before the evening ended.
“It’s a beautiful replica of a Mars rover, but before all of that, it is still a cake,” said Goldman. “And to fulfill its function as a cake, you have to eat it.”