Constraints are important. The menu must meet the needs of six to eight astronauts for two and a half years. Journey to Mars lasts six months, and the mission should remain in place 18 months.
“In March, it’s very different because it’s very far,” said Maya Cooper, a researcher at Lockheed Martin, in charge of menu development. “We can not send a shuttle every six months and stock up on food, as we do for the International Space Station.”
The astronauts who go to the International Space Station have a choice of a hundred dishes, all prepared and lyophilized, and edible for two years at least. If the dishes are tried and tested on Earth before departure, the absence of gravity affects the taste and smell. The food is bland.
The slight gravity on Mars allows NASA to consider a different menu. Astronauts can cook for themselves. Even if the pressure is different on Mars, researchers believe that the astronauts can boil water with a pressure cooker.
One of the tracks on which work Maya Cooper and his team is the establishment of a “Mars Greenhouse”, above ground. Fruits and vegetables, carrots with peppers, would be planted in mineral water and not soil. Gardening and the astronauts could use these ingredients to prepare meals.
“This menu is positive because it allows astronauts to have real plants growing. The nutrient intake is optimal with fresh fruits and vegetables, and astronauts will have a free choice by cooking their own menus, because the food has not been prepared according to a precise recipe, “said Maya Cooper.
The menus will provide astronauts enough nutrients, minerals and calories to keep them physically healthy. And psychological. Studies have shown that some dishes, like turkey at Thanksgiving, improve morale, Maya explains Cooper. This “link to the home” will be essential for astronauts during their mission on Mars.
NASA has already developed hundreds of recipes, all vegan, since the astronauts will have neither meat nor dairy products on board. It is impossible to keep these products long enough, and include a cow in the crew is impossible, Maya Cooper smiled.
To ensure an adequate intake of protein, the researchers added tofu or nuts. They devised a Thai pizza without cheese, but with carrots, red peppers, mushrooms, shallots, peanuts and a spicy sauce.
An astronaut could be dedicated to preparing meals. But if this is not the case, the researchers believe is also a menu of prepared meals, similar to what NASA designed for residents of the International Space Station. In this case, the food should have a useful life of five years instead of two years now. The ideal would be to combine dishes and fresh vegetables, says Maya Cooper.
One of the main obstacles is the budget constraints at NASA. The entire budget of the U.S. space agency has been revised downwards by the Obama administration.
Currently, about one million dollars are spent annually to develop the menu for March, according to Michele Perchonok, a researcher specializing in culinary technology at NASA, with an overall budget of over $ 17 billion in 2012.
However, the mission is important.