Thursday, June 20, 2013


Your Mission Is to Simulate Pouch-Food Eating on Mars

Today in interesting job descriptions, via The New Yorker:

In April, six people entered a geodesic dome, just thirty-six feet in diameter, perched on the barren, reddish slopes of the Hawaiian volcano Mauna Loa. They will be there until August, simulating that they are living on Mars. Their mission: to eat.

Cool mission! The article continues to say that, while we're still "decades away from potentially becoming an invasive species on Mars," it's time to figure out what we're going to eat once the Red Planet is colonized. Fresh off a series of cooking classes at Cornell, the terranauts in Hawaii are charged with finding viable alternatives to the "classic astronaut fare" of pre-packaged meals, which are convenient but numbing: astronauts nearly always lose weight in space, and the gastronomic fatigue would be unsustainable for a long-term mission. So:

The HI-SEAS crew documents every meal meticulously, like a group of neurotic nutritionists. They record the ingredients that comprise every meal and the weight of each dish; they take photos of every plate and note any leftovers; and they fill out surveys before and after every meal, recording hunger levels, mood, productivity, and health.

Alternating between two days of food preparation and two days of pre-packaged meals, the crew's come up with a few winners that bring the categories together, like "a 'Martian' sweet-and-sour-chicken-and-cabbage soup, made with dehydrated veggies and freeze-dried pineapples." The space agency is also working on improving the quality of their tube foods:

One of NASA’s challenges for Mars is to come up with pouched foods that can last for up to five years. Currently, the agency has around seven meat items with that kind of shelf life.

Seven meats that last five years in a pouch! The whole thing is slightly inconceivable to me, especially the scale aspect:

“When you’re talking about a Mars mission that goes two and a half years, and if you’ve got to feed a crew of six, you’re looking at around twenty-two thousand pounds of food,” said Perchonok. “About three thousand of that is packaging.”

Slightly related: my very favorite short story about long-term space exploration, Ray Bradbury's plain, vivid heartbreaker "All Summer in a Day."

20 Comments / Post A Comment


every day is a good day for bradbury! (but holy moly, is that one sad or what.)


This is the only job I have ever wanted in my LIFE.


@aphrabean A colleague of mine (a NASA employee) was cut from the very last selection round for this project. She was REALLY hoping to be selected as an alternate so she could just move to Hawaii for a couple of years but NOT actually have to be confined to a packet-food dome. I was super sad when she told me last spring that she'd been declined.


My very first science fiction book, upon recommendation of my father, was The Martian Chronicles. I was nine. I feel as though Bradbury is part of my soul. Off to snap up a few books....


Wait, don't I remember that traveling to Mars is impossible because the space radiation would kill you over that length of time?


@Rock and Roll Ken Doll The problem isn't the general level of space radiation, but the possibility of a deadly solar storm. I think the usual solution is to create a "radiation bunker" protected by the ship's water stores or other dense cargo.


I've really got to read 'Packing for Mars.'


@Rock and Roll Ken Doll Me too! My science may be out of date -- I should have included some more qualifiers in the above comment.


@stuffisthings "the usual solution" pretty much made that comment, though.


@Ophelia Oh shit! President Bieber II is going to be so pissed that I flubbed this mission. *activates time-travel belt*

Miss Maszkerádi

Oh my. Bradbury. I think I started the Martian Chronicles once when I was nine, couldn't get into it, and forgot about Bradbury forever. WHAT HAVE I DONE THIS IS CLEARLY a gaping hole in my life that must immediately be filled.


@Miss Maszkerádi - Bradbury reminds me of C. S. Lewis in that they can both reach a certain corner of my heart that no one else can.

fondue with cheddar

"Seven meats that last five years in a pouch! The whole thing is slightly inconceivable to me..."

Clearly you have never had MREs.


Deep and abiding love for Ray Bradbury here. Always wished I didn't know he was wrong about Mars before I read him.


BRB, I'll be in the bathroom crying about All Summer in a Day.

Bus Driver Stu Benedict

I tried some dried kimchi they had at Trader Joe's. Which is a kind of thing I would want on a lengthy space journey, because it's kimchi.

One problem though - it gave me the wickedest farts ever. Like if you could somehow eat farts and those farts made their own farts and you kept going for three, four generations is what it smelled like, I think.


I'm reading a book about space travel, and there was an anecdote (I wish I could remember which flight it was, but I can't) where the astronauts were so starved for fresh food that they ATE some onions that had been sent up there as experiments to see how things grow in space. Which on the one hand is pretty funny, but good god what if you were the onion scientist, and this was going to be one of the crowning moments of your career and botanical science, and some goobers just ate your experiment for fun.


@KeLynn - by the way, the book is "Packing for Mars" and I've already commented twice about this book in the few days I've gotten it, so I hope you guys are looking forward to me working space facts into every comment thread for the next week.

Daniel Maybury

I know little about The Mars, though I have a lot of curiosity about The Mars. I have seen a photo and and a shot article on Pinterest a few days ago, and today have a little more from your Blog.

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