Six researchers have spent the past four months living in a small dome on a barren Hawaii lava field 8,000 ft up a mountain to see how they might survive on a mission to Mars.
The scientists came down to earth on Tuesday, clutching recipes but without the space suits they had to wear each time they ventured onto the northern slope of Mauna Loa, an active volcano which last erupted in 1984.
The study area is isolated, yet accessible, and has no visible plant or animal life.
One of the first things they did when they came out of the habitat was to have a buffet breakfast which included lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.
“Based on this study we’ll be able to offer a strategy that optimises everything and that is a good balance between, on the one hand not wasting too much time preparing your food and wasting too many resources, but on the other hand, keeping your crew fit and healthy,” said Angelo Vermeulen, crew commander of the Mars simulation mission.
The six participants were selected by the University of Hawaii and Cornell University for the Nasa-funded study to prepare meals from a list of dehydrated, preserved foods that are not perishable.
They examined pre-prepared meals similar to what astronauts currently eat, and concocted meals themselves in an effort to combat malnourishment and food boredom.
Members did their cooking in a two-storey dome with small sleeping quarters, an exercise room and a kitchen.
The study – known as Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (Hi-Seas), included an open call for recipes that involved a lot of Spam.
The canned meat, popular in Hawaii households, was a common ingredient in suggested recipes because of its shelf-life.
Team members will spend several days in debriefings after emerging from the dome.
It will take several months to process all the data gathered.
The team hopes to present findings at the International Astronautical Congress later this year in Beijing.