A NASA crew of simulated Mars-dwellers returned to Earth last week and they were pretty sick of the food.
This was the second of four planned HI-SEAS missions, an acronym for Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation. The space agency sent six volunteers to live for four months inside a mock Mars base camp atop the Mauna Loa volcano. It’s an isolated location at an elevation of approximately 8,200 feet above sea level with a Mars-like terrain, less the 3.711 m/s² gravity. The crew spent 120 days inside the 1,000 square foot geodesic dome exiting once each week in simulated spacesuits.
The missions are designed by NASA’s Human Research Program seeking insight into the quality of life issues that will keep astronauts happy and healthy on extended missions in space. Not surprisingly, food is a primary focus of the simulations.
Some surprising ingredients fill the HI-SEAS pantry.
To make the cut, foods need to be compact, shelf-stable, and require minimal water in preparation. Of course there was Tang and the expected space-food pouches of freeze-dried processed meals, but the crew also brought along things like pepperoni, crystallized ginger, dried shitake mushrooms, miso paste, polenta, truffle oil, and anchovies, all in the same form you’d find in an earth-bound kitchen.
Textured vegetable protein loaf again?
The HI-SEAS crews have learned a lot about menu fatigue. Eggs and cheese come in crystal or powdered form, and fruits and vegetables are sliced, diced, and freeze-dried. Most of their protein comes from meat analogs created out of soy, gluten, and multi-purpose textured vegetable protein, with names like chickenish and baconish.
The crews of both missions had a nearly universally complaint: textural monotony.
There are no chips to dip or carrot sticks to munch on, no juicy burgers or spare ribs to gnaw. Frying is forbidden and crumbs are discouraged in the dome where equipment and instruments can become filmed with grease or clogged with debris. Combined with all the preserved and processed ingredients, it adds up to 4 months with no crispy, crunchy, crackly, crustiness.
Food bloggers in space
The crew members of HI-SEAS2 share recipes, food pics, kitchen tours, and more on the HI-SEAS.org website.
The next simulated mission, HI-SEAS3, takes off in October and will run for eight months.