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Deep Space Diet: Handling Hunger on Mars

Researchers from Cornell University and the University of Hawaii, as well as a nine-member volunteer crew, do hands-on training with a chef in teaching kitchens at Cornell as part of a three-year NASA study designed to develop a healthy, sustainable and enjoyable menu for interplanetary travel. Credit: Cornell/HI-SEAS

A team of researchers from the University of Hawaii at Mānoa and Cornell University are testing new forms of food and food preparation strategies for deep-space travel.

The university investigators have picked six volunteers to make up the crew of a simulated Mars mission.

The mission is dubbed HI-SEAS. That stands for Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation. It is part of a study for NASA to determine the best way to keep astronauts well nourished during multiple-year missions to Mars or the moon.

Along with two days of cooking lessons at Cornell’s test kitchens, the volunteers have taken part in team-building exercises, sensory testing and academic preparation – all in preparation for a trip in early 2013 to live in isolation for four months on a barren lava field in Hawaii.

Once they head to Hawaii, the team of volunteers will be required to live and work like astronauts, including suiting up in space gear whenever they venture out of a specially built simulated Martian base.

Menu fatigue

According to Cornell’s Jean Hunter, associate professor of biological and environmental engineering, one of the biggest food challenges astronauts face is labeled “menu fatigue”. That is, over time, they not only tire of eating foods they normally enjoy, but also tend to eat less.

Reducing food intake can put individuals at risk for nutritional deficiency, loss of bone and muscle mass and reduced physical capabilities.

The HI-SEAS mission will test whether crew nutrition, food intake and food satisfaction can be improved if crews cook for themselves and will assess the additional resource cost of a crew-cooked food system.

Check out this special video on this investigation, at:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=cH5vAHCXKGo&feature=player_detailpage

By Leonard David

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