In April, the crew was moved into their new 993-square-foot home on the black-brown slopes of Mauna Loa, an environment that would replicate the lack of sensory stimulation on Mars, where ecological nothingness might compound an astronauts’ craving for something interesting to eat.
“It’s a very barren mountain field,” said Dr. Binsted. “There’s no vegetation in sight.”
The experiment was organized to have the crew trade off between cooking and non-cooking days every two days. On non-cooking days, the crew ate pre-prepared meals. Some were good, others were not, said Binsted. All the while, the team recorded their assessments of the food, rating such factors as taste and texture.
And then, there were cooking days. For those, the team was provided with non-perishable, preserved, and dehydrated ingredients – the sort that could be ferried all the way to Mars without spoiling. In other words, the researchers were handed a lot of Spam, plus: freeze dried meats and fish; grains like rice and oatmeal; dried fruits and vegetables; lots of nuts and beans and chips; powdered dairy products; baking ingredients; and an impressive roster of spices and condiments.
There was also a stove, an oven, and a microwave. Water was available, but limited.
In short, the kitchen looked a lot like typical one, except everything had been reconfigured into an unrecognizable and less appetizing form. Could those less than palatable ingredients be combined and spiced-up to do what food is supposed to do: send an emotional jolt to the mind, making it brim with memories and feelings?
So, the six people stirred and concocted and invented. Science-minded people outside the little capsule sent in their recipes, and the faux astronauts made them. Spam and its equally (not) delicious companions became lemon dill pasta salad and chili burritos and split pea and spam soup. There was Cajun jambalaya and Arabia Terra Tabouli and sushi rolls. There were spam n’egg sandwiches and pancakes. Birthdays were celebrated, and commemorative cooking ensued. There was a Moroccan beef tangine that went over well – a surprise, since “freeze dried beef doesn’t really capture what people enjoy about beef,” said Binsted.