Out of this world

If you can’t be an astronaut, why not eat like one?  The University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and Cornell University are on a joint mission: Find eight people with qualifications similar to those required by NASA astronaut applicants to take part in a NASA-funded Mars analog habitat study, Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, or HI-SEAS. 

According to the HI-SEAS website, lengthy space exploration missions have required specialized foods to sustain an isolated crew over long periods of time in places with limited or no access to food in the local environment. Enter prepackaged rehydratable or ready-to-consume foods for meals. Nevertheless, astronauts eating a restricted diet over a period of months ultimately experience “menu fatigue,” also known as food monotony.  This notion of “menu fatigue” puts astronauts at risk for nutritional deficiency, loss of bone and muscle mass, and reduced physical capabilities.  Compounded with the notion of “menu fatigue,” only a few of the many available astronaut foods have the three- to five-year shelf life required of foods for a Mars mission. 

Kim Binsted

“I got involved in this study because I served as a crew member in another long-term analog study, in the Canadian High Arctic,” said UH Mānoa Information and Computer Sciences Associate Professor Kim Binsted.  “So I was highly motivated to figure out how to make tasty food out of shelf-stable ingredients.”

The HI-SEAS food study is designed to simulate the living and working experience of astronauts on a real planetary mission and to compare two types of food systems – crew cooked vs. pre-prepared – in the context of a four-month Mars analog mission. Specifically, participants in this group will explore the impact of food preparation, food monotony, nasal congestion and smelling acuity on food and nutrient intake in isolated, confined microsocieties. 

In addition, the study explains that crewmembers will wear “spacesuits” whenever they need to venture outside and consume a diet including both freeze-dried and dehydrated foods similar to present-day astronaut foods, plus foods that they prepare themselves from shelf-stable supplies—an alternative approach to feeding crews of long-term planetary outposts. The study will also track the use of habitat resources related to cooking and eating to provide data for future designs of planetary habitats.  

Once the eight finalists are selected, they will embark on a five-day training workshop in early summer 2012 on the Cornell University campus in New York to train in research procedures and use of the research equipment, learn how to plan menus and prepare appealing meals from shelf-stable ingredients, and work together to plan their activities for the habitat experiences. The group will then be divided, with six forming the habitat crew and two serving as research support specialists/alternates.  

A two-week-long training mission to test research procedures and experience living in a Mars-like environment is planned for the fall of 2012. The last phase of the study, a four-month analog experience, is planned for early 2013.

For more information, visit: http://www.manoa.hawaii.edu/hi-seas.

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