HONOLULU - Researchers who have spent nearly four months simulating what it's like to live on Mars are emerging from their experiment on a barren Hawaii lava field.
The NASA-funded study is researching what foods astronauts might eat during a mission to Mars.
The University of Hawaii and Cornell University selected six people of various scientific backgrounds to cook meals from a list of dehydrated and preserved food items that are not perishable. They looked at pre-prepared meals, similar to what astronauts currently eat, and concocted meals themselves in an attempt to combat food boredom and malnourishment.
The researchers will be emerging from their simulated Martian base Tuesday for the first time without the mock space suits their experiment required whenever they ventured out of the dome on the northern slope of the Big Island's Mauna Loa.
"It will be the first time they feel fresh air on their faces," said Kim Binsted, a UH-Manoa associate professor and an investigator on the food study, who didn't live in the simulated habitat.
The crew members include a research space scientist for the U.S. Geological Survey in Arizona, a science and technology journalist from San Francisco and a materials scientist and educator working with disadvantaged students in Puerto Rico.
The team's commander, Angelo Vermeulen, said on the study's website, http://hi-seas.org, that the problem with ingredients that aren't perishable is they're usually highly processed and lack fiber.
The study, Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, put out a call for recipes, which involved a lot of Spam. The canned meat, popular in Hawaii households, was a common ingredient in the recipe submissions because of its shelf-life, Binsted said.
The researchers prepared several dishes using Spam, such as Cajun jambalaya and a fried rice noodle dish.
They had to rely on freeze-dried produce and meat. "These freeze-dried foods are pretty close to fresh," Binsted said.
Hawaii's temperate weather and Mauna Loa's geological features made for the ideal setting, Binsted said. The area is isolated, yet accessible, and has no visible plant or animal life.
After the crew emerges, they'll spend a few days debriefing. They'll likely be disoriented from the experience, Binsted said, but have requested a beach outing before going back to their normal lives.
It will take several months to process all the data the team gathered. Binsted hopes to present findings at the International Astronautical Congress this year in Beijing.
Mauna Loa is an active volcano that last erupted in 1984.