What does a mission to Mars need to succeed?
A high-powered spacecraft, obviously. Well-trained astronauts in top physical condition.
And of course, cooking classes.
Wait, what? Well, it may not seem quite as obvious as the other elements of a long mission to space, but food and nutrition are central to the success of any attempt to get human beings to the red planet.
At the HI-SEAS lab in Hawaii, NASA is funding research into making dehydrated food more palatable and satisfying for people on multi-year space missions.
The HI-SEAS lab is under construction in Hawaii, 8,500 feet above sea level. Looks Martian, doesn't it?
Study participants will eat nothing but dehydrated food for four months. Half the time, they'll just mix up dehydrated ready-to-eat meals, like those that campers use. But for the other meals, they'll be offered raw, dehydrated materials, and learn to cook with them to create their own meals.
Food is important on longer missions: studies have found that in microgravity, the degenerative effects of malnutrition can be heightened, so if people aren't eating enough, it could cause more damage than it would on Earth.
One reason people on a mission to Mars might stop eating enough? Boredom.
"When you eat the same thing over and over again, you get bored by it, [you get] full sooner, and end up eating less," associate professor Jean Hunter told Fast Company. "For astronauts who might be somewhere far away from home where there's not much variety in their lives, getting bored with the food can be really serious."
Not the most glamorous vision of space travel. But the research should help astronauts get creative in preparing their own food.
For instance: study participants will learn how to make egg sushi out of dehydrated egg, rice, and seaweed, as well as chocolate pudding from cocoa powder, dehydrated milk, sugar, cornstarch and fat. The goal is to develop a recipe book that astronauts can use well into the future.
The researchers won't just work on recipes internally. They're also going to open a web portal where "dehydrated food experts" will be able to send in their own ideas. And who might those people be?
"We expect to hear from the preppers, the people who think the end of the world is coming, the bomb is going to drop, or the virus is on the way," Hunter says. "There's a whole culture, mostly in the West, where people are building months of food, water and ammunition."
So yes: NASA is planning to ask conspiracy theorists and bunker dwellers to help their astronauts make dinner.
Out of this world.