If you've ever eaten the dehydrated "space food" sold in novelty shops, you probably thought "Oh hey, not bad!" Now imagine eating the same thing for years on end. Yup, it would get boring.
The New Yorker has a lovely story on Nasa's quest to battle the "menu fatigue" that astronauts develop after they've been eating the same rotation of pre-packaged foods day after day after day. It's not just boredom: menu fatigue leads to weight loss and could be potentially dangerous on a long-term mission to Mars.
In an experiment launched in April called the Hawaii Space Exploration analogue Simulation, a group of fake astronauts is holed up in a dome that's supposed to simulate Mars are trying to figure out what works, what doesn't, and how to make the inherently unpleasant experience of space dining into something tolerable. The six crew alternate between cooking with ingredients and eating pre-packaged junk to try to find the perfect balance.
The HI-SEAS crew documents every meal meticulously, like a group of neurotic nutritionists. They record the ingredients that comprise every meal and the weight of each dish; they take photos of every plate and note any leftovers; and they fill out surveys before and after every meal, recording hunger levels, mood, productivity, and health. Sian Proctor, a geology professor who previously lived in a simulated desolate environment as one of the stars of the reality-television series “The Colony,” proclaimed that lunch on April 21st was “amazing.” It was a “Martian” sweet-and-sour-chicken-and-cabbage soup, made with dehydrated veggies and freeze-dried pineapples, and coconut bread.
Ultimately, researchers think that for practical reasons, long-term missions will need to rely on both cooked and pre-packaged foods. Hey, it's better than hot pockets every night!