For the lucky few who get to travel to space, the food isn’t exactly, well, out of this world. Most space cuisine consists of a limited selection of pre-packaged food prepared by adding water—possibly leading to “menu fatigue” that could compromise the crew’s health. This is especially a concern as space agencies such as NASA prepare to send astronauts on two-to-three year missions to Mars.
Enter the “gastronauts”—a team of scientists with the NASA-funded Hawaii Space Exploration Analogue and Simulation project (HI-SEAS) who are working to develop more appetizing and healthy foods for long-term space travel. Think shrimp paella, curry chicken crepes, and chocolate pudding with raspberries.
In June, Cornell University hosted a four-day workshop for gastronauts to try their hands at various recipes with only shelf-stable, dehydrated foods, including dried fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheeses.
Cornell sent me a gastronauts recipe book, and I was surprised at the diversity of options. For instance, astronauts can enjoy an apple pie made of just water, dough, dried apples, raisins, cinnamon, and sugar.
In March 2013, a select six gastronauts will put their culinary skills to the test in a 120-day space simulation located on a “stark” volcanic mountain in Hawaii, HI-SEAS co-leader Kimberly Binsted told me by email.
The conditions will be challenging, she says: “They’re living and working in a small space—about 1,000 square feet and only going outside in mock-up space suits. They won’t have any real-time communications, due to the time it takes a signal to get between Mars and Earth. Each click on the Internet will take 20 minutes!
“They will have a very limited water supply, allowing only a couple of ‘Navy showers’ per week. And of course, all the food will be shelf-stable—mostly freeze-dried.”
Other than cuisine, the HI-SEAS project will include experiments on crew dynamics, remote medicine, robotics, and more. Binsted and colleagues also want to gain insight into which skill sets are important in a crew and what keeps people “happy and healthy” under trying circumstances.
“We’re hoping that this is only the first of many HI-SEAS missions, so that we can get a real handle on these issues.”
The public will have the chance to participate too. Later in 2012, the HI-SEAS team will post on its website all the ingredients available to the crew, and ask people to suggest new recipes.
Binsted says she’d join a mission to the red planet “in a heartbeat.”