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Crew picked to study food production in deep space

July 05, 2012|By Mary MacVean, Los Angeles Times
  • Chef Rupert Spies, left, senior lecturer at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, works with HI-SEAS crew trainees Simon Engler, Crystal Spring Haney and Sian Proctor at Cornell's teaching kitchens in Ithaca, N.Y.
Chef Rupert Spies, left, senior lecturer at the Cornell University School… (Cornell University )

A crew of six people has been chosen for a simulated Mars mission to test ways to feed astronauts on space trips that last years. Wolfgang Puck was not among them.

Thursday’s announcement came from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and Cornell University, which selected the crew from more than 700 applicants. Nine people took part in an intense testing and training session in June, with six chosen for the mission and the three others serving as the reserve crew.

Their mission, called HI-SEAS — for Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation — is to figure out how to make food and what foods will taste good enough to take on long missions.

VIDEO: Collecting space food

Even though plenty of earthbound people eat Rice Krispies every morning for years on end, things are different in space. Menu fatigue is a major challenge, said Jean Hunter, associate professor of biological and environmental engineering at Cornell.

Over time, astronauts tire of foods they normally like and they tend to eat less, and that can mean a risk of nutritional deficiencies and loss of bone and muscle mass. The HI-SEAS mission will test whether the situation improves if crews cook for themselves.

The team also will compare the taste of the instant foods now available with their own “space-made” dishes. They’ll track the time, power and water needed to cook and clean up for instant foods vs. the foods they make. They’ll come up with recipes, too.

The crew:

  • Oleg Abramov, a research space scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey Astrogeology branch in Flagstaff, Ariz.
  • Simon Engler, a scientific programmer specializing in robotics currently on an internship at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh
  • Kate Greene, a science and technology journalist, amateur filmmaker and avid open-water swimmer who lives in San Francisco
  • Sian Proctor, a geology professor at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix
  • Yajaira Sierra-Sastre, a materials scientist and educator who is working with disadvantaged school districts and communities in Puerto Rico
  • Angelo Vermeulen, a biologist, space researcher and artist from Belgium

Last month, along with two days of cooking lessons at Cornell’s test kitchens, the volunteers took part in team-building exercises, sensory testing and academic preparation for a trip in early 2013 to live in isolation on a barren lava field in Hawaii.

The crew will be trained later this year for a four-month simulation mission in early 2013. Once they head to Hawaii, the team of volunteers will be required to live and work like astronauts, including suiting up in space gear whenever they venture out of a specially built simulated Martian base.

And they’ll have a little help with culinary skills in Rupert Spies, chef and senior lecturer at Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration. Spies led the hands-on kitchen training sessions and will help the crew develop a menu for the study.

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