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Discrimination? Why it'll be vegetarians only on NASA's mission to Mars

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
July 18th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Only vegetarians will be visiting Mars, or at least that's according to the people who are in charge of designing the menu for NASA's Martian astronauts who may visit the planet sometime in the 2030's. Researchers have already begun planning the mission and are working on the all-important menu.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Food matters. It's one of the most important contributors to morale and well being, especially when you're living in cramped quarters and facing imminent life and death situations. This has been known throughout history. Ancient records tell of feasts before battles, in more modern times extra rations have been issued to troops before sending them over the top. Today, even condemned prisoners get last meals delivered.


For astronauts, food is a much more complicated thing. For one, weightless environments affect taste. For another, a round trip to Mars will take almost three years with 18 of those months spent on the planet. Their food will have to last the duration and remain edible. 

On the upside, Mars has some gravity, even though it isn't the same as on Earth. That gravity will give food some taste and the extra space will give astronauts the ability to grow some of their own food using specialized equipment and solutions. 

More importantly, if the astronauts are able to grow and prepare their own food, they will get some choice in what's for dinner instead of being told what they will be eating that day. 

For planners, the paramount criteria is to make sure that all astronauts remain fed with a balanced and nutritious diet. They will need all their calories, nutrients, and minerals to survive and work on the red planet for 18 months. And they must be satisfied with their portions because overeating one meal will mean less food for another. 

In addition to nutrition, the crew's happiness matters. A Mars expedition will be crewed by a small team of astronauts and they will be deprived of family contact and the creature comforts of home. There will be no days off, no vacations - in space, every day is Monday. 

And that's what makes food critical to mission success. Research shows that food affects morale. Whether it's turkey on Thanksgiving or cake for your birthday, food does a lot to make you happy. Planners must take that into account as they plan a menu astronauts will rely on for years. 

But what about vegetables? Why will all the astronauts be vegetarian? It's not really discrimination. Instead, it's because meat and dairy products can't be kept for the long duration of the mission. Therefore, all the meals must be vegetarian -- they can't be anything else. 

To ensure proper nutrition, a variety of items will be sent along. And to ensure enjoyment, tofu, nuts, and sauces will go along to enhance textures and flavors.

Of course, we should mention that at the end of the process comes recycling. Astronauts will be living in space for nearly three years and they will not have the luxury of throwing away their waste. At first glance that sounds absurd, since it's hardly possible to pollute interplanetary space with a single mission, but that's not the concern. Rather, a single craft with limited space will carry limited supplies. Even on Mars, the materials needed to sustain life will be limited. Astronauts will need to recycle everything, including personal waste matter and water, just to stay alive. 

Therefore, over the next two decades, researchers will need to figure out how to keep a crew sustained and happy for a very long voyage that will have no hope of rescue or resupply should things go awry. All of that starts with food. You can't have a mission if you can't feed the astronauts. 

It's happened before. During the age of exploration, sailors would often spend months or even years at sea subsisting on salt-pork and hardtack. But sailors had the hope of imminent landfall and could occasionally fish to add variety to their diet. Mars astronauts will have no such hope or luxury. But history tells us, it can be done as people have survived on much less for much longer periods on Earth - although no comparable feat has ever been attempted in space. 

But they're trying. So advice for future astronauts: stay in school and learn to like your vegetables, you're going to be eating a lot of them sometime around 2030.

 

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