Mission to Mars: Beating Menu Fatigue

Mission to Mars: Beating Menu Fatigue

Did you know that menu fatigue presents a real problem for long term spaceflight?  Throughout the years since man first traveled into space, food and mealtimes have been one of the things that scientists have focused on. Humans need to eat, so from the toothpaste tubes of the early days of the Space Race to modern, chef-cooked, dehydrated meals, the food taken into space has always been important. Now, as we look towards the future, and a possible mission to Mars, we find that food has once again become the center of focus.
According to the University of Hawaii, a mission to the red planet will face a few food related problems. Most importantly, astronauts on the International Space Station have reported suffering from ‘Menu Fatigue’. When foods, even those that a person normally enjoys, lose their appeal, people stop eating enough to sustain themselves. The result can be loss of bone and muscle mass, which in space, can be a deadly combination. Beyond this, food that might be typical on a Space Shuttle mission or a trip to the ISS isn’t likely to last the three-five years that a Martian surface mission might take. Over time, foods packaged for space lose their taste and their nutritional value, so an alternative needs to be found.
To combat such problems on a long term mission to Mars, Cornell University, in cooperation with the University of Hawaii and NASA have devised a simulated, four month mission to test different methods of food preparation as well as foods themselves to see what the best approach to feeding our astronauts on the surface of Mars might be. Because there is gravity on the surface, it is thought that preparation by the astronauts might be the best way to avoid problems with menu fatigue and lost nutritional value. Since such preparation would take time and effort by the crew, it is important to ensure the trade offs are worth it.
The test, which will accept six prime ‘astronauts’ and two backups, will be conducted on the big island of Hawaii. Participants will test, in an entirely realistic and simulated Martian environment – including using delayed communications as the only contact with the outside world and having to suit up to go outside the habitat – whether it is more efficient in the long run for such astronauts to eat ready-made products or meals prepared from shelf stable products instead. The answer could shed some light on what might be the best way to approach this new idea that maybe, someday soon, we could send a team to Mars.
Want to apply? The requirements aren’t that unlike those that would be required of someone who wanted to be an astronaut for NASA, and about 200 people who meet all of the criteria are expected to apply, but applications are open to anyone. You can apply too! Just visit the project’s website: Apply now for the Cornell/University of Hawaii Space Exploration Analogue and Simulation (HI-SEAS).

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