Test Kitchen Prepares Meal to be Eaten on Mars

A group of trainees prepares their own space food for a communal culinary experience

Space Pizza

In a small culinary classroom at Cornell University, nine space mission trainees use freeze dried beef and chicken chunks, dehydrated vegetables, powdered spices and concentrated butter to prepare meals that can be eaten on Mars. These ingredients might not sound tasty to us Earthlings with fresh produce on hand, but astronauts have very limited kitchen appliances to prepare meals and must eat foods with a shelf life of over a year. What’s worse is that they experience diminished senses of taste and smell in space and often resort to drenching foods in hot sauce.

These trainees attempt to change the way astronauts eat and make space food delicious. They are part of the HI-SEAS project, a study that works to find a way to feed humans on the Red Planet using its limited energy and resources.

Next year, six of these participants will venture to the isolated, volcanic mountain of Mauna Kea in Hawaii to simulate life on Mars. Together, they will need to cook and eat using only dehydrated and shelf-stable foods for four months.

But cooking for survival is not the only mission. Engaging in a communal activity like preparing food will help these trainees, and astronauts everywhere, feel a sense of camaraderie in a place so far from human civilization. After the group successfully baked a Mars-sustainable pizza, Ivonne Cagle, trainee and Air Force colonel said, “I think this is the best pizza I’ve ever tasted. But maybe that’s just because of the feeling that we made it together.”

Popular Science writer Paul Adams spent the day in the kitchen with the trainees and explained that “the panoply of freeze-dried foods were fascinating to sample.” But while the freeze-dried fruits were delicious, he described the chicken as “meat-flavored wads of gauze.” It seems like the beauty of space pizza may have been in the communal experience after all.