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How long could you live off dehydrated fruit and powdered eggs? For astronauts on two- to three-year missions in outer space, subsisting on just-add-water meals gets old pretty fast. Of all the challenges of eating well in orbit, menu fatigue is a big one. Over time, astronauts get tired of foods they once enjoyed and they start eating less, risking bone and muscle loss and returning to earth undernourished and underweight
Sponsored by Cornell University and the University of Hawaii, six selected crew members will embark on a simulated Mars mission in early 2013 during which they will develop tastier foods and test crew nutrition and menu satisfaction. They’ll also figure out whether it’s feasible to let astronauts cook for themselves.
The crew members chosen for the mission, called HI-SEAS (Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation), comprise scientists, a journalist and a professor. They were selected from a pool of 700 applicants; three other finalists will make up the reserve crew. In June, the team underwent testing and training to prepare for the mission, including team-building exercises, sensory testing, academic preparation and, of course, cooking lessons.
Under the tutelage of Rupert Spies, chef and senior lecturer at Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration, the HI-SEAS crew learned how to get creative in the kitchen. They devised a surprisingly wide variety of dishes including sushi, paella, pizza and croissants, all without fresh ingredients. Hand rolls and nigiri sushi were fashioned with canned fish and pickled vegetables, for example. Doesn’t sound appealing? The crew members insisted it “tasted amazing.” “I was really impressed with how much culinary creativity is possible without fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy,” says crew member Oleg Abramov, a research space scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s astrogeology branch in Flagstaff, Ariz. “Before this workshop, if I had been presented with the apple pie that we made, I would never have guessed that it was made with dehydrated apples.”