MARCH 2, 2012
As much as I’d like to go to Mars, and work in a habitat, it’s not likely; the earliest populated mission to Mars is in 2037. However, I have applied to the Cornell/University of Hawaii Mars Analogue Mission and Food Study. Applications are now closed, and about 700 people applied; only eight will participate. It’s a 120-day Mars exploration analogue mission that will take place in early 2013 on the big island of Hawaii. I’m psyched! Actually, studies of the effects of living in an enclosed environment for long periods of time have already been done. Between 2007 and 2011, a crew of volunteers lived and worked in a mock-up spacecraft. The final stage of the Mars-500 experiment, which was intended to simulate a 520-day manned mission, was conducted by a crew consisting of three Russians, a Frenchman, an Italian and a Chinese citizen. The experiment helped plan the mission, identifying possible problems and solutions. The mock-up facility simulated the Earth-Mars shuttle spacecraft, the ascent-decent craft, and the martian surface. Volunteer crew used in the three stages included professionals with experience in fields such as engineering, medicine, biology, and spaceflight. There have been many other similar studies and more underway, in Antarctica, Europe, Russia, China and Australia.
520 days! Holy crap! That includes a round-trip flight time of between 400 to 450 days. What will we do in space that long? I’m trying to imagine what 120 days in isolation will be like, and that’s only in a contained environment on Hawaii. However, the habitat part of this mission doesn’t involve psychological effects or exploration. It’s all about the food! People on long missions typically eat only prepackaged meals, or concentrates. No matter how tasty the food, a type of fatigue sets in, a food monotony, and astronauts not only lose interest in the food, but also eating meals altogether. Additionally, prepackaged meals contribute more weight to a mission already starved for mass. Every bit of mass taken on a spaceflight must be boosted into orbit, at tremendous cost with limited storage space. There are other problems: prepackaged meals have a shorter storage life than the individual ingredients. Moreover, all of the crew members have scientific and exploratory goals, and time spent in food preparation and cleanup is time lost to research.
I think this type is thinking is short-sighted. I know exploring Mars will be exciting. I know the prospect of living on another planet will be exciting. I also know that there is such a thing as job fatigue. One cannot spend all of one’s time on the mission. I don’t mean just that all work and no play makes the Mars explorer dull. I mean that everyone needs a break from their own work. I propose that each member of the crew take turns preparing meals and cleaning up, say one day a week for each person. Perhaps one day a week, assuming there is a six-member crew, be a non-cooking day. The crew could simply eat prepackaged meals on that day, and everyone gets a break.
I’m sure that the experience of preparing meals will benefit every member of the crew. There will be the benefit of eating freshly prepared foods. There had better be a small array of spices! Salt, pepper, red chile powder, garlic powder, onion flakes, maybe some packaged shallots, and other spices as crew members might suggest. Nothing helps break the monotony like different spices; and dried powders are very light. Will there be cooking oil, I wonder? How about some sesame oil and chile oil too? Certainly some oil is a necessary part of our diet. Instant butter! Mmm.
One thing I’d recommend: high fat, great tasting food. One does not get fat or malnourished by eating good foods. One gets fat or malnourished by eating too little or too much food. Period. These programs might be making the mistake of assuming all the food must be low-fat, low-salt and low-sugar. No, my friends, I don’t think so. If portion size is strictly controlled, one can have snacks and deserts and still maintain a healthy diet and weight. I’m sure the calorie-intake needs of each person can be measured, and such a group of dedicated explorers, knowing how limited their food supplies are, will adhere to strict guidelines for food consumption. There should be enough leeway to allow for the occasional party, with some special food and drink.
What will these intrepid explores drink by the way? Water is extremely heavy to ship into space. In an ideal situation, the Mars explorers will find ice or other trapped water on, or close to the surface. But we do not live by water alone. I’m sure there are some powdered drinks to break up the monotony. Coffee, PLEASE! But you know what makes digestion go better, and livens up the entire eating experience? Wine! How’s that for an idea? I know a lot about wine, particularly food-pairing. I am a partner in the Anasazi Fields Winery in Placitas, New Mexico. We pair our fruit wines with a wide variety of foods. Apricot wine goes extremely well with fatty fish and aged cheese, for example. Cranberry wine goes quite well with roast chicken, turkey and mild cheeses. I’m not just talking about a connoisseur’s point of view. I find that certain foods, like venison, soft and/or aged cheeses, for example, bring out intense fruit flavors in wine. The wine itself alters the palate so that the food itself is more flavorful. How about that, mission control? Can we have wine with our meals? We need it. Can wine be freeze-dried and retain its alcohol and flavor? I don’t know. Alcohol is usually the first thing to go when dehydrating liquids. The alcohol would sublimate from even frozen wine. I don’t know how to solve this problem, but I’m telling you all right now: if you want those souls trapped in a hostile environment to always enjoy their meals, they will need wine. Put it in individual lightweight boxes, like those ubiquitous boxed fruit drinks. Put it in small bags. Put it in anything lightweight, but bring it!
MARCH 3, 2012 – Walking to Mars (Mars reached the closest point to the Sun in its orbit)
On Wednesday, February 29, after I had sent my application off the night before, I went hiking into the Sandia Mountains. Short hike; just fours miles up and back the Domingo Baca trail. The entire time I kept thinking that I need to get in better shape. I still have to pass a Class 2 flight physical. Of the 700+ people who applied for this mission, 30 will be selected and notified to get the physical. I expect the physical will help prune that number down to the remaining eight. We still don’t know when we will hear anything. In the meantime, I need to keep walking. Today, March 3, I went on another 4-mile hike, but climbed 1200 feet in elevation in one hour! My hiking group hiked to the Eye of the Sandias. It was painted in the 1960s, refreshed in the 1990s and it looked as if it had been touched up within the last two years as well. The Eye looks out at Albuquerque, monitoring its growth, according to legend. It was a good hike. We started at about 7200 feet and climbed to 8400 feet to take a break at the Eye. I took some photos and we went on back down. I suspect I’m going to have to increase the number of hikes I go on, and get back to those 9 to 12 mile hikes I was going on two years ago. Time to get this old body back into shape, and I’d better hurry. I’d hate to be selected and fail the flight physical. Anyway, here are some pics from today. Some are looking out across Albuquerque to Mount Taylor, some 90 miles away. Other shots show my hiking companions, the Eye itself, and parts of the trail. One shot shows I-40 snaking eastward though Tijeras canyon, even as we were able to view Albuquerque and Mt. Taylor. It really is a good place for an eye.
MARCH 5, 2012 – News & Information
Finally, some information: “The selection panel is currently going through the applications to determine a short-list of candidates, who will then be asked to get an aviation medical exam (at our cost), and to provide references. We expect to be able to inform you whether or not you are on the short-list by the end of March.” Good to know.
In case some of you are wondering why the hell the Mars mission itself is important, there is this:
Exploring space, especially the planets around us, IS important to our future, not only for our nation, but for the survival of our planet.
MARCH 7, 2012 – It’s a not-in-Kansas-anymore twister!
Half a mile high! Image from the high-resolution camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. More info: http://bitly.com/zNeD5P
MARCH 9, 2012 – posted on HI-SEAS:
“As we go through the applications, we are blown away by the caliber and the passion of the applicants. You all are amazing.”
Of course! 🙂
MARCH 12, 2012 – The Case For Space
Please read this article: The Case For Space
In it, the author makes a logical, but also very compelling pitch for the United States to go to Mars sooner, not later, and to revamp its space program now. A hazy “commitment” to Mars sometime in the late 2030s is not going to keep us on track. President Obama said that the Apollo program “produced technologies that have improved kidney dialysis and water purification systems; sensors to test for hazardous gases; energy-saving building materials; and fire-resistant fabrics used by firefighters and soldiers. And more broadly, the enormous investment of that era — in science and technology, in education and research funding — produced a great outpouring of curiosity and creativity, the benefits of which have been incalculable.” Of course, according to author Neil deGrasse Tyson, there is much more to that list of revolutionary spinoff technologies, including digital imaging, implantable pacemakers, collision-avoidance systems on aircraft, precision LASIK eye surgery, and global positioning satellites. Even in troubled economic times, the author states, the United States is a sufficiently wealthy nation to embrace an investment in its own future in a way that would drive the economy, the country’s collective ambitions, and, above all, the dreams of coming generations; in 1969 the United States went to the moon while fighting two wars — one cold, one hot — during the most turbulent decade in American history since the Civil War.
Imagine the excitement when NASA, bolstered by a fully funded long-term plan, starts to select the first astronauts to walk on Mars. Right now, those science-savvy future explorers are in middle school. As they become celebrities whom others seek to emulate, the United States will once again witness how space ambitions can shape the destiny of nations.
MARCH 28, 2012
No news yet; just this post from HI-SEAS:
“We expect to have an update for applicants next week. Thank you for your patience as we give your applications the attention they deserve.”
I’m patient, but next week seems so far away now. 🙂
APRIL 7, 2012 NEWS!
Received this today:
“Thank you for your interest in the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and
Simulation. As you may know, we received almost 700 applications for
this mission, for only six crew positions. Because of this huge
response, we have had to add one more stage to the process (as
originally described in the call for participation). At this point, you
are one of the candidates for a potential
education/journalism/outreach/art/social-media position on the crew.
However, we will have to narrow the total pool down further before
moving on to interviews, references and medicals. We expect to be able
to notify the ~30 crew semi-finalists by mid-April.“
This must be what waiting for a launch window is like: “end of March”, “next week”, and now “mid-April”. I’m pretty damn excited! I feel like a kid waiting for a holiday.
APRIL 20, 2012 Final News
My last message from HI-SEAS:
“Dear HI-SEAS Applicant,
Thank you again for your interest in the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog
and Simulation. I am sorry to inform you that you have not been selected
for the interview stage of the application process. We had a very large
number of highly qualified applicants, and it was extremely difficult to
narrow the pool down.
We expect to be able to run further HI-SEAS missions, so even if you
will not participate as a crewmember this time, we will keep you on file
for future opportunities. If you would like us to delete your
application from our files, let us know.
Thanks again for your application, and for your commitment to human
Oh, well, and my hopes were so high. This was the first thing I’ve been excited about in years.