Manoa, Hawaii – It’s a tough job, but NASA needs someone to do it. And you don’t have to be an astronaut.
NASA and the University of Hawaii (UH) are conducting a 120-day study in a simulated Mars habitat on the Big Island of Hawaii.
For the study, reports UniverseToday.com, they are seeking volunteers to live and work like astronauts – including wearing the full space suit whenever they head outside of the habitat.
But the real purpose of the experiment is to study food.
Food for space
NASA and UH say only a few of the many available astronaut foods have the three to five year shelf life required for a mission to Mars.
Those foods are prepackaged rehydratable or ready-to-consume foods, which are made by space agencies worldwide specifically for microgravity environments.
They are convenient to prepare (especially when there’s no gravity), but studies show people will grow tired of eating a restricted diet over a period of months and will ultimately experience menu fatigue – also known as food monotony.
NASA says people will tire of eating even foods they normally enjoy and their overall food intake declines. For astronauts this would be especially risky.
Gravity and cooking
On a planetary surface mission, the presence of gravity would make cooking possible. Food ingredients with the proper packaging would last longer and require less packaging than individual rehydratable meals.
And the evidence shows people don’t experience menu fatigue when food is cooked fresh on site rather than simply rehydrated.
As NASA says: “With the right ingredient set and some skill and creativity in the kitchen, an almost infinite variety of foods can be produced, providing planetary explorers with a nutritionally balanced diet customized to their evolving needs and likes. Moreover, preparation of food is an important part of every human culture, with psychological value for both the crew and the cook.”
The participants will focus on comparing two types of foods: crew-cooked versus pre-prepared.
Among the many requirements – a Bachelors degree, ability to pass a class 2 flight physical examination, no medical or psychological condition that would preclude participation in this study, normal sense of taste and smell, tobacco-free for at least 24 months, demonstrated ability to conduct field research, strong interest in human space exploration – participants must also have a willlingness and ability to eat a wide range of foods.
And household cooking experience wouldn’t hurt.