Mars Researchers Wrap Up Four-Month Mission To Study Food
August 14, 2013

Mars Researchers Wrap Up Four-Month Mission To Study Food

Peter Suciu for – Your Universe Online

In space, no one can take your order for takeout. In fact, figuring out what astronauts would eat on Mars remains one of the biggest issues for researchers. To solve what future stellar explorers might eat, a team from the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) food study spent four months in isolation in a remote habitat that was designed to simulate a long-duration space journey.

This particular study looked to simulate the living and working experience of the astronauts on a real planetary mission and to compare two types of specific food systems – one that was crew-cooked and another that was pre-prepared. This was done as thoroughly as possible in the context of a four-month Mars analog mission.

The HI-SEAS 2013 Mission was led by Jean Hunter of Cornell University and Kim Binsted of University of Hawaii at Mānoa, and was funded by a grant from the NASA Human Research Program.

Part of the goal of the study was to ensure that astronauts could receive a balanced diet that included nutritional foods – and just Tang and food that comes in a tube. Actual foods, including meats and fish, grains and even condiments were provided – although some in a far more limited amount.

“You definitely need the ability to express yourself, take away some of that boredom and menu fatigue, but you also want some of the efficiency that comes along with those days that you are really busy and you just want to make something quick,” said crew member Sian Proctor, one of the six researchers, about the food study.

Recipe contributions were even accepted via the website, and the winning recipes include: No-crust Quiche Muffins (breakfast); Moroccan Beef Tangine (soup/stew); Lemon-Dill Pasta Salad (side dish); Spam Fried Rice (main dish); and Dark Matter Cake (snack or dessert). These were made available online.

“I really think we proved that by offering people shelf stable ingredients and the possibility to cook meals with that,” said Angelo Vermueulen, HI-SEAS researcher. “That is a really good strategy to keep people enthusiastic about the food they eat. But on the other hand the data still has to be analyzed.”

This is just one of several new studies that consider how astronauts cannot only get to – but also survive on – the Red Planet. In May, NASA dished out $125,000 in grant money to Anjan Contractor to develop a 3D food printer. This device would likely utilize a powder-based system that has a shelf life of 30 years and contains either sugars, complex carbohydrates, protein or some other basic building blocks for nutrition. The idea is that food could be printed in layers and that reduced food could take up less room on a spaceship.

Feeding people is just one part of the problem, as getting back could be another.

However, it was announced earlier this month that 40 volunteers that were chosen to take a one-way trip to Mars gathered recently in Washington, DC to hear Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp explain his plans to build a permanent base on Mars by 2023.

It is likely too soon to know if they’ll cook their own food or have it printed out.