On Tuesday, August 13, six scientists from the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) atop Mauna Loa completed a 118-day simulated mission designed to examine the best means to feed future astronauts en route to Mars. The mission began in mid-April, and terminated when the six scientists emerged from a space habitat approximately 8,000 feet above sea level. To commemorate the achievement, on Tuesday mission commander Angelo Vermeulen tweeted, “We have landed. #hiseas Mission 1 is officially over.”
During the mission, Vermeulen and his five colleagues dined on a variety of instant foods and cooked their own food using shelf-stable ingredients, rating all meals and recording such indicators as body mass, health status, and mood.
HI-SEAS is a NASA-funded endeavor led by the University of Hawaii at Manoa and Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. The objective of the simulated mission to Mars was to determine the best methods possible to sustain the mental, emotional, and physical health of future Mars-bound astronauts.
While researchers will likely pore over the HI-SEAS crewmembers’ journals for a while to come, some conclusions are already apparent to Vermeulen, who offered a preliminary assessment, saying, “Ingredients that will be essential for future space missions on Mars or the moon will include spices, herbs and hot sauce. But also comfort food such as Nutella, peanut butter and margarine. And then enough ingredients rich in fiber. The problem with shelf-stable ingredients is that they’re usually highly processed and hence lacking fiber. We enjoy wheat bread, rye crackers, nuts, and dried fruits, for example.”
In addition to eating inside of the habitat and determining the suitability of the available foods for astronaut consumption on the mission to Mars, at least once a week the scientists conducted mock-EVAs – in full astronaut suits – to examine the surrounding terrain and conduct geological and microbe-detection studies.
In addition to HI-SEAS, NASA is funding an additional – albeit smaller-scale – research venture with $125,000, which is aimed at developing a three-dimensional pizza printer that may one day be capable of combining a variety of ingredients that have a long shelf life.
The funding of these research ventures is in line with the official position of NASA – following the directive issued by President Barack Obama in 2010 – which has set goals of reaching a near-Earth asteroid by 2025, and then on to Mars by the mid-2030s.