February 21, 2012
Space Cooks Needed For Simulated Mission To Mars
NASA is searching for a few good cooks for a simulated mission to Mars.
Researchers from Cornell University and University of Hawaii-Manoa are looking for six volunteers to spend four months next year living in a simulated Mars base on a Hawaiian lava flow. The data collected from the NASA-funded project will be used to determine the lowest-cost and easiest ways to give astronauts well-rounded meals without inducing menu fatigue.
"It's important to keep astronauts eating well," said Jean Hunter, professor of biological and environmental engineering at Cornell.
"It goes to mission success and astronaut safety,” she told USAToday.
The volunteers will live like astronauts, dressed in simulated spacesuits, Hunter explained. They'll use some of the prepared foods NASA astronauts eat today as well as some shelf-stable foods, such as sugar, flour and freeze-dried meats, which can be used to make their own meals.
While NASA has no current plans for a manned mission to Mars, the space agency is working to develop a rocket for deep-space distances, such as the moon or Mars, a NASA spokesman said. It also has a research projects underway that study other issues related to long-term spaceflights, such as radiation exposure and eye problems astronauts sometimes develop.
Although the simulated mission will be only four months long, an actual mission to Mars would take three years -- six months travel each way, plus two years on the red planet
The site of the current study has not yet been determined, but there are a number of locations in Hawaii that are "quite Mars-like in various ways," said Kim Binstead, co-investigator at the University of Hawaii-NASA Astrobiology Institute.
"We need a site that is very low on vegetation, visually isolated, visually Mars-like and very stark,” she told USAToday.
Volunteers should be scientists or engineers and "people who are congenial or easygoing, without a whole lot of prickles – people who are interested in food, who know how to cook. And people who are healthy,” Hunter said.
Those selected will train at Cornell this summer to learn to prepare meals with the given supplies and equipment.
There will be a two-week dry run before the four-month simulation to ensure “everyone gets along and the equipment works," she added.
Those interested in applying may do so by visiting manoa.hawaii.edu/hi-seas. The application deadline is February 29, and the researchers say they'll make their final decision by the end of May.
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