Photos from the study: Space suits and habitat
Ithaca (WSYR-TV) - It may sound like fun to spend four months, all expenses paid in Hawaii, but that's not why the University of Hawaii and Cornell University sent six people to the island.
The six were picked to study what foods astronauts might eat during a mission to Mars.
The researchers say a barren lava field was the perfect place to simulate Mars for the past four months; it's isolated, yet accessible.
When the test subjects looked out of the portholes in the bubble they lived in, there was no visible plant or animal life to see.
Cornell’s Jean Hunter, the lead project researcher, said, “The habitat doesn't have much room, but the way in which they set up the furniture and the work space made it seem roomier than it really was and everybody was able to retreat to their private bedroom space when they needed to."
The goal was to figure out what an astronaut could and would eat during a mission to Mars.
“We didn't really have to try that hard to make the food taste good. We had good quality ingredients – freeze dried and dehydrated vegetables, all sorts of things you might find in your pantry. The key I think was to cook it with enough variety to keep it interesting over a four month mission,” Hunter said.
One thing Hunter says they have learned already is that the crew is absolutely convinced that cooking for themselves was a big boost for morale. While she says there was no one favorite meal, one thing came up over and over.
“They did a lot of tortilla wraps. They would rehydrate a number of different kinds of vegetables and put those together with a protein source, like pepperoni or tofu or sausage in a tortilla and they would serve that with soup."
Hunter says because of the kinds of foods they were eating – a lot of fruits and vegetables – even though they were dehydrated and freeze dried, the crew remained in good health.
She says exercise was also part of every day. The bubble had a treadmill and exercise bike and walks outside were usually several miles in spacesuits and heavy backpacks.
“They're gradually getting reexposed to the foods that they love and the activities they enjoy outside the habitat,” Hunter said. That includes the first time they’ve felt fresh air in months.
Researchers now have mountains of data to wade through but plan to use it for similar studies over the next three years that will last four months, eight months and a year.