HI-SEAS: Hawaii Space Exploration Analogue & Simulation

By Cornell University and University of Hawaii Manoa

HI-SEAS (Hawaii Space Exploration Analogue & Simulation) is a 120 day Mars exploration analogue mission, to take place in early 2013 on the Big Island of Hawaii. CREW MEMBER APPLICATIONS ARE NOW CLOSED. PLEASE RETURN TO THIS SITE FOR UPDATES ON THE TIMELINE.

Study Background

From ancient Polynesian voyagers to present-day astronauts on the International Space Station, lengthy exploration missions have all required specialized foods to sustain an isolated crew over long periods of time in places with limited or no access to food in the local environment. Since cooking is nearly impossible in microgravity (search online for Sandra Magnus to learn the details) astronauts eat prepackaged rehydratable or ready-to-consume foods for all their meals. Such meals are convenient to prepare and eat in microgravity and hundreds of different foods have been prepared for this purpose by space agencies worldwide. However, humans eating a restricted diet over a period of months ultimately experience “menu fatigue”, also known as food monotony. They tire of eating even foods they normally enjoy, and their overall food intake declines, putting them at risk for nutritional deficiency, loss of bone and muscle mass, and reduced physical capabilities. Moreover, all foods decline in nutritional and eating quality over time, and only a few of the many available astronaut foods have the 3-5 year shelf life required of foods for a Mars mission.

On a planetary surface mission, the presence of gravity makes cooking possible. Properly packaged food ingredients typically last longer and require less packaging mass than individual rehydratable meals. Furthermore, anecdotal evidence indicates that menu fatigue may be less significant when food is cooked fresh on site rather than simply rehydrated. With the right ingredient set and some skill and creativity in the kitchen, an almost infinite variety of foods can be produced, providing planetary explorers with a nutritionally balanced diet customized to their evolving needs and likes. Moreover, preparation of food is an important part of every human culture, with psychological value for both the crew and the cook.

The major disadvantage of cooking on a space mission is the cost of resources required for food preparation and cleanup: equipment, power, water, and crew labor. Crew time spent on housekeeping, maintenance, and food related tasks is not available for the mission’s exploratory or scientific goals. The labor required per person-meal varies with the size of the crew, the number of foods prepared and the equipment and ingredients available, but little is known about the break-even point in crew size, at which cooking would become more labor-efficient than eating instant foods out of individual packages.

Study Goals

The Cornell/Hawaii food study is designed to simulate the living and working experience of astronauts on a real planetary mission and to compare two types of food system – crew-cooked vs. pre-prepared – as thoroughly as possible in the context of a four month Mars analogue mission. Our specific objectives are to:

  • Determine the acceptability (palatability) of available instant foods and food prepared by the crew from shelf stable ingredients, and determine whether food acceptability changes over time during a four month simulated mission
  • Estimate use of crew time, power, and water for meal preparation and cleanup, for both instant and crew-cooked foods
  • Determine if crewmembers’ taste and smelling acuity and nasal airway patency remain constant over a four month isolated/confined analogue mission
  • Measure crewmembers’ food and nutrient intake, and any changes in food choices and intake patterns, over the course of a four month analogue mission
  • Among the many environmental determinants of crewmember mood in an isolated and confined environment, determine the role of food
  • Conduct individual research studies proposed by crewmembers and “opportunistic research” studies from other researchers. These projects will have human subjects research board approval from their investigators’ home institutions and will be reviewed and approved in advance by both the crewmembers undertaking them, and the study organizers
  • Compile recipes and cooking tips used by crews, in order to improve the food system for future planetary analog missions, and to build a database of recipes for food preparation from shelf stable ingredients that can be used on real space missions.

Study Procedures

Six prime and two alternate crew members will be selected to participate in the following study events:

  1. A four-day workshop at Cornell University, envisioned for summer 2012, during which crewmembers and alternates will:
    1. Learn to perform tests of smelling acuity and nasal patency on each other
    2. Learn procedures for tracking food intake and using arm accelerometers to measure energy expenditure
    3. Receive training in cooking with shelf-stable ingredients
    4. Discuss and coordinate personal research projects for the training mission
    5. Discuss and select opportunistic research projects for the training mission
  2. A two week training mission envisioned for late 2012 in which six crewmembers, supported by one or two alternates, will:
    1. Live and work together in a small isolated Mars analogue habitat in a Mars-like environment, having only delayed electronic communication with the outside world
    2. Wear simulated space suits whenever leaving the habitat
    3. Respect water restrictions, e.g. “Navy showers” every other day.
    4. Consume only “instant” foods and foods prepared from shelf stable ingredients, all provided at the habitat, and rate these foods for acceptability
    5. Track their intake of foods and beverages by weighing and measuring them
    6. Wear arm accelerometers to track physical activity and energy expenditure
    7. Test each other periodically for airway patency, taste/smell identification, and acceptability of food-related odor compounds
    8. Fill out a daily survey reporting mood state, personal health, and body mass
    9. Submit daily reports on conditions at the habitat and on work in progress.
    10. Work on their personal research projects as a mission specialist might do.
    11. Optionally conduct, or serve as subjects in, opportunistic research projects earlier approved by the crewmembers
    12. Evaluate their experience in the two-week training mission to improve facilities and procedures for the final four-month mission
    13. Alternates will provide local support for the training mission, prepare research equipment and supplies, and assist mission support staff with any necessary repairs or maintenance to the habitat. An alternate will also replace any crewmember who drops out of the study for personal or medical reasons.
  3. Review opportunistic research projects proposed for the 4-month simulated Mars mission, and participate in online private discussion groups, meetings, chats or conference calls to select projects to be conducted during the 4 month mission
  4. A simulated Mars mission in 2013, in which six crewmembers, supported by one or both alternates, will return to the habitat and repeat items 2a – 2j for a period of 120 days, preceded by 3-5 days of setup work and followed by 3-5 days of wrap-up. Alternates will serve the same support roles as during the training mission.

Crew Selection

We are seeking participants for this study with qualifications similar to those required by NASA for their astronaut applicants, as follows:


  • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, in engineering, biological or physical sciences, mathematics, or computer science.
  • Professional experience (including graduate school) of at least three years beyond the bachelor’s degree
  • Ability to pass a class 2 flight physical examination
  • No history of upper airway surgery, rhinoplasty, chronic rhinitis or chronic sinusitis
  • No other medical or psychological condition that would preclude participation in this study
  • Willingness and ability to eat a wide range of foods
  • Normal sense of taste and smell
  • Tobacco-free for at least 24 months
  • Demonstrated ability to conduct field research
  • Strong interest in human space exploration
  • Fluency in verbal and written English
  • Availability and willingness to take time to participate in the workshop and the two analogue missions


  • Experience in a complex operational system, e.g. submarine, ambulance, airplane cockpit, control room
  • Background in medicine or nursing at the “first responder” level or higher
  • Ability to lift 15 kg and to cover 100 m on foot in 40 seconds or less
  • Experience in construction, electronics, or home repair
  • Body mass index between 19 and 25.
  • Not pregnant or lactating during 2012 and 2013
  • Household cooking experience
  • Valid driver’s license
  • Age between 21 and 65

Application and Selection Procedure

APPLICATIONS ARE NOW CLOSED. PLEASE RETURN TO THIS SITE FOR UPDATES ON THE TIMELINE. All applications will be anonymized, then reviewed by a committee consisting of the project investigators and at least one representative from NASA or the Canadian Space Agency who is familiar with the astronaut selection process and standards. Up to 30 semi-finalists will be selected.

If you are selected as a semi-finalist, you will be asked to obtain a Class 2 flight physical and to have the medical examiner fill out a form summarizing the examination results. You will be reimbursed for the cost of the examination. We will request letters of reference and may also interview you and your references by phone. Eight finalists will be selected, notified, and asked to confirm their participation. If any decline, they will be replaced with other highly qualified candidates. The remaining applicants will also be notified and asked if the study team may keep their applications on file in case any finalists drop out. If that permission is not received, their application data will be destroyed. At the conclusion of the 120-day Mars analogue mission, all remaining application data will be destroyed.

The eight finalists will be invited to a training workshop in the summer of 2012 at Cornell University (Ithaca, NY), during which their taste and smell acuity, communication style and ability, and capacity to learn new scientific and culinary skills will be evaluated in person by the study team. After the workshop, finalists will be divided into six prime crewmembers and two alternates/research support specialists.

Compensation, and penalties for early withdrawal

If selected for the study, your compensation will be as follows:

Four-day training workshop: Reimbursement of travel (economy class), lodging and food expenses for the workshop.

Two-week training mission: Travel, food and lodging expenses will be provided. In addition, a $500 honorarium will be paid to crewmembers and the alternate(s) working in local research support who complete the training mission.

120-day Mars analogue mission: Round trip travel, food and lodging expenses are provided. Crewmembers in the habitat will be paid a stipend of $25 per day spent in the analogue habitat plus a completion bonus at the end of the mission, for a total mission compensation of $5000 over and above travel, lodging and food expenses. Alternates working in research support roles near the habitat will have their housing and round trip transportation paid for, a per diem for food, and will receive the same stipend and completion bonus as the crewmembers.

A participant choosing to leave the study during a mission will forfeit any completion bonuses and will become responsible for any fees associated with changes in his or her travel plans. A participant dropped from the study for medical or psychological reasons will be paid a prorated completion bonus and will be reimbursed for fees associated with changes in his or her travel plans.

Medical Care and Medical Expenses

Participants are expected to carry their own medical insurance. They are expected to notify the study team of any medical condition that might jeopardize their participation in the study. Participants will be asked to obtain a dental examination 60-90 days prior to the Mars analogue mission study (at their own expense), and to have any necessary dental work completed before the mission (at their own expense).

During both the training mission and the analogue mission, non-urgent medical care will be provided by telemedical support request initiated via cell phone text messaging to a consulting physician (the “flight surgeon”) and continued via e-mail. This strategy has been used successfully for the last ten years at the Mars Desert Research Station. In case urgent medical care is needed, the analog crewmembers will contact both the flight surgeon (for advice) and the alternates (available close at hand) to arrange for emergency care. A test of the telemedical support system will be performed at the beginning of each mission in the habitat and at two-week intervals during the 4-month Mars analogue mission.

A well-equipped first aid kit, and a set of typical over-the-counter medications, will be provided in the habitat. The medications will be kept locked, with keys held by the crew commander and the health and safety officer.