by Marcus Chown
Cornell - April 24, 2000 - The next generation of astronauts needn't fear for their stomachs: volunteers who have just spent 30 days dining on Martian cuisine have given it the thumbs up.
It's all part of a NASA-funded project to create a suitable menu for a 1000-day mission to Mars.
A team led by Jean Hunter of Cornell University has spent two years concocting 200 vegetarian recipes from plants, including wheat, tomatoes, soya and carrots, which are on the NASA shortlist of 15 crops that could be grown in a hydroponic greenhouse on Mars.
"Test subjects liked them individually, but we wanted to see whether they would accept them in a steady diet," says Hunter.
The menu had to include varied meals that were easy to prepare, supplied the right nutrients, and were low in sodium and iron.
"Sodium can reach dangerous levels when water is cycled between a crew, bioreactors and plants," Hunter says. Astronauts also need less iron in their blood.
The prospective Martians--16 Cornell staff members--ate meals which included black bean chilli, stews and stir-fries made with a wheat-based meat substitute, plus soups and sandwiches.
The reaction of the volunteers was positive. "I thought the food was delicious," says Elizabeth Babcock Woodring.
Getting the Mars menu right is important because a boringly monotonous diet can lead to psychological problems and the sort of serious weight loss experienced by some of the cosmonauts on the Mir space station.
Also, growing food on the Red Planet could reduce the prohibitive cost of launching huge masses of prepackaged food--and so bring a Mars mission closer.
This article appeared in the April 22 issue of New Scientist New Scientist. Copyright 1999 - All rights reserved. The material on this page is provided by New Scientist and may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written authorization from New Scientist.
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