Ithaca (WSYR-TV) -- Nine people have been chosen by NASA for a study on food for deep space travel. It started off this week with an intense tasting and training session at a Cornell University test kitchen.
So, just what are they cooking up for an eventual trip to Mars? It’s nothing fancy. Crew members are learning how to make bread, which could one day prove vital for astronauts on Mars.
“Food is hugely important for the psychology of the crew, so learning about these very basic food things that have a huge psychological impact is absolutely crucial for a mission like this,” said crew member Angelo Verneulen.
They’ll be testing all kinds of ingredients. The freeze dried variety, like strawberries, and more basic things like SPAM, mustard and hot sauce, but also things like crystallized egg whites and air dried beet powder.
“It helps you to learn about different ingredients, how to blend things, how make things flavorful, interesting and fun. That’s the best part of cooking,” said another crew member and lone astronaut of the group, Yvonne Cagle.
Backpacking foods used in missions now work for the short duration.
“But that’s not going to be sustainable over two and a half to three years of Mars trip, so what we’re trying to do is make sure they get a nutritionally balanced diet, but also food they’re willing to eat over the long term,” said Kim Binsted, with the University of Hawaii.
Cagle says space travel usually robs you of your sense of smell and therefore taste. It’s why they’re working on how to enhance taste, without overdoing things like hot sauce.
“You can develop appetite fatigue, where you just get tired of eating the same things and that can certainly impact over time your ability to maintain weight, fitness, performance.” Cagle said.
Researchers say simply cooking a meal can create a sense of community that will be crucial for a crew that will be by themselves for years on a Mars mission.
"If you're sitting down to something you've looked forward to with your friends who have made it for you, it’s a big morale booster. It's hard to put a price tag on that,” said Jean Hunter, Cornell University researcher.
The end of this phase will give NASA a better idea of what you can and can’t cook; What tastes good and what doesn’t; and the energy, time and equipment needed to make it.
Six of the nine crew members will head to a barren lava field in Hawaii later this year to live and work like astronauts at a simulated Martian base, while also testing out the menus they're working on now.