Wanted: "Astronauts" for a four-month "mission on Mars." Must be willing to cook.

That's the essence of a proposition being offered by NASA and the Canadian Space Agency, which are seeking Canadian and American volunteers to take part in a study of how astronauts might eat on a mission on Mars.

The six recruits will spend four months in early 2013 isolated on the barren lava fields of Mauna Loa on Hawaii's Big Island — an environment designed to mimic the surface of Mars, with no access to food in the local environment.


Six volunteers will spend four months isolated on the barren lava fields of Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawaii in early 2013. (Chris Stewart/Associated Press)

Their only communication with the outside world will be delayed electronic correspondence, and they will have to wear simulated space suits whenever they go outside.

Jean Hunter, a Cornell University researcher involved in the study, said she expects food to be very important in that kind of setting.

"They can't go out and feel the wind on their faces, they won't have plants, they won't smell the flowers," she told CBC Saskatchewan's The Morning Edition radio show Tuesday.

"So, the food has to provide a lot more variety in their overall life than food does for most of us."

She added that not eating well is particularly dangerous for astronauts, because the bone loss and decline in fitness that happen in lower-gravity environments such as Mars or space occur more quickly without proper nutrition.

The volunteers will eat a mix of pre-packaged instant foods — like those eaten by astronauts at the International Space Station — and foods that they cook themselves from bulk ingredients. Prior to the mission, they will receive training from a chef on how to cook using those types of ingredients.

Researchers at Cornell and the University of Hawaii want to compare whether the volunteers eat better with one type of food than the other and whether the cooked foods use up a lot more resources, such as time and water.

Those kinds of experiments can't be done at the International Space Station because of the lack of gravity.

"The food won't stay in the pan," Hunter said.

That forces astronauts at the space station to eat a limited selection of pre-packaged meals that get boring and less appetizing after a while.

However, Mars has about 40 per cent of the gravity of the Earth, making cooking more feasible.

Volunteers will be screened and selected by NASA and the Canadian Space Agency, which are accepting applications until Feb. 29.