Eat Like a Martian

By Tedy Rushton

Photo:   This is NOT a Martian (It’s a South Mountain picture)

‘Eat Like a Martian’ may sound like a sneaky way to get kids to clean up their broccoli, black beans, rutabagas and bell peppers  – –  but is has a very sensible approach to “living a Martian life” and improving life on Planet Earth.

Visiting Mars  – –  perhaps feasible within the next decade  – –  depends on more than finding half-a-dozen people who can get along with each other while living in a small space for at least three years.  Dr. Sian Proctor, a professor of geology at South Mountain Community College, was one of six who on 2013 took part in the first 120-day simulated Mars Mission located in a dormant ‘looks a lot like Mars’ crater at 8,500 feet on Mauna Loa.

No one was allowed outside the 900-sq.-ft. Martian Maison, shared by six people, unless dressed in a regular space suit.  This may seem like fun, but as Proctor explains, “Imagine what it feels like if your nose starts to itch!”

Her emphasis,  in addition to her background as a geologist and SMCC professor, was as a “foodie” who collected recipes and did the cooking that became ‘Meals for Mars’  – –  the title of her book which she published this year.

Visiting Mars won’t be cheap.  Today, it costs about $50,000 to put a pound of payload into Earth orbit.  NASA wants to reduce the cost of getting to space to hundreds of dollars per pound within 25 years and tens of dollars per pound within 40 years.  Until then, cutting costs by cutting weight is vital.  (It’s why there are no ‘fat’ astronauts.)

The average person consumes about 1,000 pounds of food and drink a year.  Much of that weight is water.  Space travel means recycling all water (it’s not just pitched overboard  – –  it’s all reused).  So, all food for Mars travellers will be freeze-dried and waterless until mixed with water and cooked  – –  as for the 2013 test.  For example, “instant coffee” is a freeze-dried product;  major supermarkets such as Fry’s now stock freeze-dried fruits and veggies.

Why a mission of this type?  Proctor explains, “In a nutshell, astronauts tend to suffer ‘menu fatigue’ over time, so they don’t eat as much as they should.  This could potentially be disastrous for long-term lunar or Martian missions.”

“One of the goals of this expedition was to develop a food strategy for long space flights,” Proctor told an astronomy meeting at the South Mountain Environmental Education Center.  “Food just doesn’t taste the same in space, partially due to the lack of gravity.”

“The days of ‘food in a tube’ are long gone,” Proctor explained.  “Likewise for other prepared foods.  It’s why freeze dried food is suitable;  it’s light until combined with water, and it has the original taste and nutrition values of food.”

It’s not really a “new” ideas.  Hundreds of years ago, the first use of freeze-drying was in the Andes where indigenous people took potatoes to high elevations.  When squashed to evacuate water, left to freeze at night and exposed during the day, the mash lost its remaining water while nutrients were preserved.  As such, it was perfectly preserved for years.

The “shelf life” of freeze dried foods is often measured in decades, with flavour and texture fully preserved.  (Not even ‘hardtack’ is that durable.)  The goal, on a Mars mission with a lengthy stay on the planet, is good food that can be stored without using extra energy.

“The current thinking is to send remote controlled expeditions to land on Mars and establish a supply depot,” Proctor explained.  “Then, a manned mission will have a base and the supplies it needs when it arrives for a lengthy stay.”

The lengthy time frame, unlike a Lunar Mission, is because Mars orbit is different than the Earth.  So, NASA is running tests to determine how people interact within a small space for a lengthy period of time, plus other unknowns about long-distance space flights.

One small example  – –  very obvious in the 900-sq. ft. ‘Mars station’ on Mauna Loa  – –  is special socks designed to fight microbial growths., otherwise known as “stinky feet”.  No one need be expected to three years of stinky feet.  Another is a dining table;  people aren’t used to floating around the room while having a meal.  It’s why these experiments are done.

Sometimes the obvious doesn’t become “obvious” until it’s tested in actual conditions.  

Interested in a genuine “Martian Simulated Mission Tested’ recipe?  Consider Omega patties, created by Aquilla Elfindale and tested during the 2013 Mars mission. Ingredients:

– –  4 cans pink salmon
– –  1 tbs flour
– –  1 cup ground flax seed
– –  1 cup parmesan cheese
– –  1 cup mayonaise
– –  1 tbs garlic herbseasoning
– –  1/2 tbs onion powder
– –  1/2 tbs chili pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable oil (optional)
rolls or buns

Assembly:

– Mix the salmon, flour, flax seed, parmesan and mayonaise
– Mix in the herb seasoning, onion powder and chili pepper
– Divide into 1/2-cup balls and press in to patties
– Place on cookie sheet and bake for 25 minutes at 350-(F) degrees
– Serve with rehydrated cabbage, onions, and tomatoes on a roll or bun.