Manoa, Hawaii – It’s food research, but not your typical kind of food research. You could almost say it’s out of this world. Well, sort of.
Six researchers recruited by NASA and the University of Hawaii (UH) just ended a four-month “mission” living in isolation in a barren lava field in Hawaii. The crew lived and worked like astronauts at a simulated Martian base, including wearing full space suits every time they headed outside of the two-storey habitat.
NASA and UH announced the need for a crew in early 2012 (See “NASA seeks people who can cook and eat”) for the 120-day study.
The aim of the study was to examine two types of food systems: crew-cooked versus pre-prepared. The study was also looking at how to ensure astronauts got a balanced diet and avoided food boredom.
Food and more food
Before the mission began, the crew had an intense tasting and training session at a Cornell University test kitchen, learning how to make items like bread.
“Food is hugely important for the psychology of the crew, so learning about these very basic food things that have a huge psychological impact is absolutely crucial for a mission like this,” said team commander and crew member Angelo Verneulen at the time.
The Cleveland Leader reports that the crew had dehydrated, preserved foods that are not perishable to work with. Some of the ingredients included freeze-dried foods (such as strawberries), SPAM (since it has such a long shelf life), mustard, hot sauce and also crystallized egg whites and air-dried beet powder, reports News Channel Nine.
The study also included an open call for recipes that involved a great deal of Spam, says the Cleveland Leader. It was a common ingredient in suggested recipes because of its shelf-life. The researchers prepared a number of dishes with Spam, including a Caju jambalaya and a fried rice noodle dish.
Astronauts lose their sense of smell and therefore taste during space travel, reports News Channel Nine, so the study was also about learning how to enhance taste without overdoing items such as hot sauce.
Researchers also say cooking meals can create a sense of community that will be crucial for a crew that will be by themselves for years on a Mars mission.
NASA, UH and the crew will be in de-briefings for the next several days studying what you can and can’t cook, what tastes good and what doesn’t, and the energy, time and equipment needed to make it.
They’ll also be reviewing the crew’s recipes.
One key finding that’s already known is the need for comfort food on any future missions to Mars, says the crew. What would be a good example? The Cleveland Leader says it’s Nutella. As it turns out the crew craved it but had a limited supply and had to ration it.