Today the TED blog highlighted the HI-SEAS mission and our crew commander (and TED fellow) Angelo Vermeulen. Here’s an excerpt of the Q&A:
What will the HI-SEAS simulation be investigating and teaching us?
The Mars simulation we’re setting up is called Hawaii Space Exploration Analog & Simulation or HI-SEAS. It’s primarily a food study. One of the main problems during long-term space travel is so-called menu fatigue. It’s basically astronauts getting tired of their food and losing appetite. By the way astronauts do not eat out of tubes and do not swallow food pills. That’s an old persistent cliché which is still in a lot of people’s minds. It’s almost an archetype of astronaut life. However this dates to the ’50s and ’60s, and has been long abandoned. The food that astronauts currently eat is pretty good, but it’s all pre-prepared. It’s add-water-and-heat, and you have your meal. But even those meals, even when they try to make variations, after a couple of months people get tired of that, and so they start to eat less. As a consequence they might also perform less, and jeopardize the mission.
For example, in the Mars-500 experiment — an isolation study of 500 days near Moscow, a collaboration between Europe and Russia — food became the item that people constantly talked about. Food is absolutely crucial to the psychology of your crew, and you need to handle that carefully.
One of the solutions could be to allow the crew to cook. Because cooking empowers you over your food. You can make endless variations, and there’s an interesting bonus: it improves social cohesion. You talk about food, you share food. It’s a basic human thing. The reason that space agencies have been holding it off are twofold. First of all, current human space exploration is done in microgravity conditions — like in the ISS — and as such cooking has hardly been possible. One needs a good deal of gravity to cook meals. In HI-SEAS we’re talking about simulating life on the surface of Mars, not about traveling to Mars. And since there’s a decent amount of gravity on Mars (38% of Earth’s gravity), you can do your regular cooking.
So what you’re doing is not for people in a space vehicle.
No, it’s not for the transit phase. It’s for an actual stay on a planetary surface, such as Mars, but also the Moon. The second reason space agencies have been holding off cooking is because it takes more time, water and energy, and all of those things are extremely precious in outer space. A pre-prepared meal is indeed way more efficient. But it’s a tradeoff: if your crew becomes unhappy and starts to perform less, you might want to invest a little bit by allotting more time and resources for preparing food.
We are actually the first crew in the history of space exploration to be allowed to cook properly. Obviously we’re not real astronauts, we’re simulating astronaut life. But still. This is the very first, very thorough study of the potential of cooking. That’s the baseline research — that’s why we’re funded.
To read more, go here.