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NASA seeks cooks for Mars trip simulation

No bean or cabbage recipes, please

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NASA is looking for volunteers to prepare foods during a simulated Mars mission that will see six lucky people locked in close proximity for 120 days.

Researchers from the University of Hawaii and Cornell University are looking for volunteers for the simulation, dubbed the Hawaii Space Exploration Analogue & Simulation (HI-SEAS), which will aim to solve the problems of space cuisine. The purpose is to make sure that astronauts making the long trip to Mars get proper nutrition on the trip.

Food for preparation in zero gravity is a well-established industry, and the problems of feeding people in space have led to some interesting – and by all accounts, horrible – taste and texture combinations. But it has been noted that after long periods of the same sorts of foods, “menu fatigue” sets in, and the food is less attractive. Orbital travel already takes a toll on muscles and skeletal development, so the team are going to experiment with cooking actual food as well to keep astronauts interested in eating.

“Anecdotal evidence indicates that menu fatigue may be less significant when food is cooked fresh on site rather than simply rehydrated,” says the call for volunteers. “With the right ingredient set and some skill and creativity in the kitchen, an almost infinite variety of foods can be produced, providing planetary explorers with a nutritionally balanced diet customized to their evolving needs and likes. Moreover, preparation of food is an important part of every human culture, with psychological value for both the crew and the cook.”

Initially, six volunteers will be selected for a two-week test inside an enclosed environment on Hawaii to simulate a space voyage, where they will eat prepackaged foods and meals they cook themselves, can only receive time-lagged electronic messages to simulate distance from Earth, and will only leave the capsule when wearing a space suit.

Following successful completion of this shakedown cruise-with-cruising, a four-month trial will begin to measure the longer term effects of the two forms of diet. The testers will have their energy use measured, and hopefully the effects of self-prepared meals verses prepackaged can be accurately measured. A chef will help with meal selection, to avoid a Blazing Saddles bean-feast situation.

Those looking to take on the task must have nothing to do next year, be between 21 and 65, possess a degree in engineering, biological or physical sciences, mathematics, or computer science, and be smoke-free for at least the last two years. Household cooking experience and a valid driver’s license is considered desirable.

You have until February 29 to apply. ®

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