… One of the primary concerns about a human mission to Mars is: We simply don’t know how the human mind responds to spending months or years in an alien environment millions of miles from the other members of your species. “In space, you’re in a form of sensory deprivation,” says Kim Binsted, one of the HI-SEAS project leaders. “You don’t see the colors you’re used to. There’s no real-time communication.” So how can long-duration astronauts maintain a sanity-shielding link with humanity? Delicious, familiar food is crucial.But it’s not easy. In order to survive a trip to Mars, Earth food has to be shelf-stable for at least a year — dehydrated if possible, canned if not. Making matters worse, the human sense of taste and smell diminishes dramatically in space. Crewmembers on the ISS and other missions get in the habit of drenching every meal in hot sauce to compensate.
To that end, Binsted and her collaborators, including Spies, a senior lecturer at Cornell’s hotel school, and Jean Hunter, a professor of biological engineering who helped develop the process for manufacturing Pop Rocks, are working with the carefully selected crew to explore ways of making dehydrated space food compelling. Teaching the crew to cook is essential, providing variety and choice in the diet, as well as a focused, pseudo-domestic communal activity for the team. The kitchen in the simulated habitat will include equipment chosen for energy efficiency and minimal space requirements: a convection oven, an induction cooktop, a pressure cooker, an immersion blender. They can cook whatever they want and are encouraged to experiment — within certain engineering limits.
“Deep frying is not compatible with life in a remote habitat on Mars,” says Hunter: with atmospheric pressure on Mars being about half of what it is on Earth, reduced air resistance to spattering oil would result in droplets throughout the confined crew quarters. In the Hawaiian simulation, the crew will be permitted 8 minutes of showering per week, and the habitat, while not completely sealed, will have very limited air exchange, so the atmosphere is expected to be far from fresh.
That, Binsted explains, is a possible explanation for astronauts’ reduced sense of smell, which is not fully understood. It could be simple saturation, that the nose’s sensitivity shuts down when it’s cooped up with strong odors. Binsted was a simulated astronaut herself in an FMARS mission in 2007, when, she recalls, “when the final bell rang, we all went outside and breathed the fresh air for an hour or so; and then, as soon as we got back into the habitat, we realized it stank!” …