New York startup pitches commercial spacesuit on Kickstarter

http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-06/20/spacesuit-kickstarter

A New York costume designer and a Russian spacesuit engineer have turned to Kickstarter to help fund a budget astronaut outfit for the burgeoning commercial space industry.

The suits are designed for Intra Vehicular Activity — essentially a safety backup in case of an emergency loss of cabin pressure. The pair says that commercial space firms like SpaceX and Boeing will need these suits to ensure the basic safety of manned flights.

“Current Nasa suits cost well into the millions, while our 3G is intended to retail for a small fraction of this,” the team writes, on their Kickstarter pitch.

The FFD Third Generation (3G) Suit will be built to conform to the standards of Nasa’s flight certification (“to the best of our ability”, the team says), and feature a carbon fiber waist ring, a retractable helmet and improved gloves and glove disconnects.

The duo plans to get the suit built before the end of 2012. They’ve asked for $20,000 (£12,000) to help “pay for the materials, equipment and tooling required to make high technology safety garments.”

Creators Ted Southern and Nikolay Moiseev first teamed up for Nasa’s Astronaut Glove Challenge (AGC), where engineers were tasked with inventing flexible space gloves. The pair came second, netted a $100,000 prize and won a contract to further the glove design.

Since then, the pair has founded a firm called Final Frontier Design and has set about making spacesuits for the next generation of astronauts. This is actually their third suit, having built prototype outfits in 2010 and 2011.

As for Kickstarter rewards — yes, you can get a spacesuit. Pledge $10,000 (£6,000) and you’ll net yourself a complete, interstellar space suit. Be warned, though — the Department of Defense will need you to comply with the rules of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, which is either going to require US citizenship, or lots of paperwork.

So how about a FFD patch, instead. Or a t-shirt, or an icky nose-pluggingValsalva device. At the $750 level, you can score some very fetching zero gravity leggings, “comfortable for long plane flights and leg heavy workouts like skiing.”

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CONTEST: We Want You To Send an Experiment to Space. We’ll Give You $1500 To Do It.

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2012/06/21/contest-we-want-you-to-s…

Imagine having your own personal satellite orbiting the Earth. It’s got cameras and sensors galore, and you can use it to run experiments, take pictures, and even beam messages back to the blue marble.

Well, that geek fantasy will become a reality if the ArduSat project, which you can see here on Kickstarter, reaches its funding goal. The general public will be able to rent time on this small satellite and use it for whatever they please, courtesy of its Arduino processor.

UPDATE, June 25: The ArduSat Kickstarter project has reached its target of $35,000. But we’d love to raise more money, which would help build a more capable satellite with better steering and better cameras and other sensors. $75,000 would be ideal, so donate and spread the word!

We at Discover Magazine think this is pretty neat. And we’d like to give away a development kit worth $1500 to the Kickstarter donor who submits the best idea for an in-space experiment before July 6th, 2012.

The kit includes Arduinos and an advanced sensor suite shipped to your home address, as well as one week of up-time on the satellite to run any experiment. You’ll be able to build the experiment yourself and have it be sent up on ArduSat when it takes to the skies.

Here’s what you have to do to enter the (drumroll) Discover Space Challenge:

(1) Fund the ArduSat project, for however much or little as you desire. You’ll receive a personal code that identifies you as a donor.

(2) Read the contest guidelines here to learn about how you should design and submit your idea.

(3) Enter with this entry form, making sure to include your personal code.

(4) Wait for winners to be announced on July 20th, after judging by Discover blogger Phil Plait, Discover Editor-in-Chief Corey Powell, and an expert panel of judges.

(5) Rejoice!

Moon 2.0: the second generation of lunar exploration

http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-06/28/moon-2

Image1

Lunar exploration has always been exclusively a matter for nation states, but it is now within the reach of private enterprise and a growing number of companies are looking to explore the Moon in the next few years.

Although it’s four decades since the last astronaut walked on the Moon in 1972, Nasa still plans to return. There is no rallying call from the President this time, but Nasa envisages manned missions to the Moon when publicising the capabilities of their next rocket and spacecraft, Orion. Other nations have lunar ambition, notably China. The Moon falls within China’s space strategy for the next few years, as announced by the Chinese government in December 2011.

This time Nasa is not planning to do it all on its own. As with spaceflight, Nasa is again partnering with private enterprise for the second generation of lunar exploration, referred to as “Moon 2.0”. The first lunar landings in the 60s and 70s represented a race between nation states. The race is among private companies that are developing robotic spacecraft to explore the Moon. Nasa wishes to learn from these companies to assist with its own plans for future exploration missions — not just to the Moon, but to asteroids and other solar system destinations.

Nasa’s Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data (ILDD) program, managed by the Lunar Lander project office at the Johnson Space Center, was set up in 2010 and announced a series of contracts in October 2010. The ILDD Program enables the space agency to buy data from commercial operations that are developing lunar lander technologies.

In October 2010 Nasa announced it had awarded six companies contracts to purchase data under its ILDD program. Nasa’s interest is in gathering information on the new technologies being developed, such as system testing and integration, launch, in-space manoeuvers, braking burns and lunar landing. Nasa plans to use such data to develop future lander systems necessary to execute human and robotic missions to the moon, near-Earth asteroids or other solar system destinations.

In December 2010 Nasa’s ILDD office announced it had agreed to purchase data from three companies at $0.5m (£320k) each. The contracts were awarded to Moon Express, Astrobotic Technology and Dynetics. Under the terms of the contracts, each company will have to prove a critical technical component of a lunar lander is ready for spaceflight. All three companies are involved with teams competing for the Google Lunar X Prize.

“Nasa is going to be a strong a leader in Moon 2.0, just as it was in the famous Moon race of the 1960s. But this time, Nasa will show leadership by partnering with international partners and especially with commercial enterprises, in addition to conducting its own missions,” commented William Pomerantz, the Senior Director of Space Prizes at the X Prize Foundation.

On April 23, 2012, Moon Express announced it had delivered a mission design package to Nasa under the ILDD, providing Nasa with details of its lunar robotic missions and plans to mine the Moon for precious metals and water.

Moon Express, one of the companies awarded an ILDD contract to supply data to Nasa, has also signed a Reimbursable Space Act Agreement with Nasa for the development of the Moon Express lunar lander. Whilst the company will earn revenue from its ILDD agreement, under the Space Act Agreement Moon Express can purchase technical assistance and technology from Nasa.

The race to the Moon by private companies is epitomised by the Google Lunar X Prize (GLXP). The GLXP is the largest incentive prize in history — a reflection of the vast technological and financial challenges of landing a spacecraft on the Moon. First prize of $30 million (£19.2m) will be awarded to the first company to land a robotic rover on the Moon, travel 500 metres and transmit video, images and data back to Earth.

There are 25 teams left competing for the $30m (£19.2m) prize pot, following the acqusition of one of the teams, Next Giant Leap, by another, Moon Express, in May 2012.

The runner-up gets $5 million (£3.2m) and the remaining $5m (£3.2m) prize money will be made available to teams that go beyond the basic requirements — such as travelling five kilometres, capturing images of relics of the Apollo programme, verifying the presence of water, or surviving a lunar night. But there is a time limit. Whoever makes it to the Moon must do so by the end of 2015 when the prize fund expires.

How Astronauts Train at the Bottom of the Sea


Katharine Gammon – Popular Science

 

 

Since 2001, planners at NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) program have been sending people to live in Aquarius, an underwater laboratory three and a half miles south of Key Largo, Florida. Last month, during NEEMO’s 16th mission, three astronauts lived there for 12 days, testing strategies for future asteroid expeditions, evaluating the best spacewalking techniques, and planning how to sample rocks and soil.

 

At night, after hours of walking on the ocean floor, aquanauts recognize their undersea habitat by a strange light in the distance. “You see the glow coming out of the portholes,” says astronaut Mike Gernhardt, who has logged 43 days in space and also works on the NEEMO program. “It really is like coming back to a spaceship.” Aquanauts enter their school-bus-size underwater home by swimming up through a hole in its floor. Aquarius constantly hums with white noise from carbon dioxide scrubbers that, similar to those on the space shuttle, make the air safe to breathe. The main living area is kept at 2.5 atmospheres of pressure so that residents can swim outside without becoming ill. The heavy, pressurized air makes it difficult to whistle.

 

At the end of their mission, the aquanauts open Aquarius’s vents to depressurize the habitat and themselves over the course of 16 hours. Then they don their wetsuits and swim to the surface.

USAID Launches a new Grand Challenge. Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development

USAID just launched another Grand Challenge: Powering Agriculture… a Grand Challenge for Agriculture. Right now they are taking comments on the program through grants.gov.

http://www.poweringag.org/?goback=.gde_76119_member_125254670

 

Subject: Pre-Solicitation Notice

Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development

 

Dear Interested Parties:

The United States Government, represented by the Agency for International Development (USAID), Bureau for Economic Growth, Education, and Environment (E3) is seeking comment from industry and other interested parties around the world on the attached program initiative outlined in pages 2 through 4 of this Notice.

 

All comments (including questions and clarifications) must be submitted to PoweringAg@usaid.gov no later than the time/date stated above. This pre-solicitation notice is a request for comments only and applications or proposals will not be accepted or responded to. USAID has not finalized all aspects of the new initiative and needs meaningful and substantive comment from the broader community of interest. Subject to availability of funds, current estimated grant funding for this program is approximately $25 million.

 

This Notice can be viewed and downloaded from the Internet at www.grants.gov. USAID bears no responsibility for data errors resulting from transmission or conversion processes. Further, be aware that amendments to this Notice may be issued and will be posted on the same Internet site from which you downloaded this RFA. You are advised to regularly check the above Internet site for amendments and are encouraged to sign up for update notifications on the RFA at www.grants.gov


Issuance of this Notice does not constitute a binding commitment on the part of the Government to issue a Solicitation, nor does it commit the Government to pay for costs incurred in the preparation and submission of any comments. Further, the Government reserves the right to reject any or all comments received.

 

Thank you for your consideration of this USAID initiative. We look forward to your organization’s participation.

 

Sincerely,

 

Marcus A. Johnson, Jr. Agreement Officer Office of Acquisition and Assistance

 

 

USAID Pre-Solicitation Notice Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development

 

1. Introduction

The United States Agency for International Development (“USAID”), the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (“Sida”), the African Development Bank (“AfDB”), Duke Energy Corporation (“Duke”), and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) (collectively, the “Founding Partners”) are seeking innovative approaches that take advantage of the market opportunities at the heart of the energy/agriculture nexus in developing countries. Through Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development, the Founding Partners will focus on the development and deployment of effective, clean energy technologies with appropriate business models that increase agricultural productivity and value and thus broad-based economic growth. The purpose of this Pre-Solicitation Notice is to disseminate information about the program and invite comments and expressions of interest from potential applicants and experts.

 

Increasing access to clean energy along the agricultural value chain will require development of new clean energy technologies and viable business models and investment for scaling up their deployment. The scale of investment required to dramatically increase clean energy access for agricultural development dwarfs what is available from public sector entities. Historically, efforts to develop the agriculture and energy sectors have been stove-piped ignoring the interdependency between the two and the opportunities for profitable synergies. The Founding Partners believe that focusing on the clean energy/agriculture nexus presents an opportunity to capitalize on these synergies and catalyze significant increases in private sector investment to realize both clean energy access and agricultural development objectives. Moreover, agricultural intensification must not be at the expense of increased carbon emissions, decreased resiliency, and damaged capacity to adapt to climate change or the long-term impact on food security will be negative.

To date, developing new clean energy technologies and enterprises optimized for agriculture in low-income countries has attracted relatively little investment from the private sector. Changing this will require finding solutions such as break-through technologies whose cost and performance changes the character of the problem or innovative ways to bundle services and products to impact both supply and demand simultaneously.

 

2. Objectives

The objective of the Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development initiative is to improve agricultural productivity and value by increasing access to clean energy solutions to those along the agricultural value chain that suffer from no, or poor quality, grid power in developing countries. The program aims to foster innovative clean energy technologies and business models and catalyze private sector investment to enhance access to the clean energy inputs required for the agricultural value chain while simultaneously mitigating CO2 emissions from agricultural intensification. Furthermore, the energy/agriculture nexus provides an excellent opportunity for economic empowerment of women and gender sensitive approaches and all applicants will be required to address gender impacts of proposed programs.

 

3. Areas of Interest

The Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development encompasses the following stages for which the Founding Partners anticipate funding requests, either individually or jointly from commercial enterprises, investment companies, banks, insurance companies, universities and non-governmental organizations. The eligible uses of proceeds are clean energy generation, distribution, storage, and more efficient end-use technologies targeting the agricultural sector, such as improved technologies for irrigation, post-harvest processing (e.g. drying, grinding), cold storage, on-farm use, and other components of the agricultural value chain including technologies for converting agricultural waste/bi-products into electricity and direct use of renewable resources for agricultural processes (e.g. solar, geothermal, etc. for drying, heating, cooling).

 

Technology and Business Model Innovation (Component One)

The partners anticipate that individual awards between $300,000 and $1,000,000 will be available for the following component one activities:

a) Technology Innovation – This program component will provide grant support to seed early stage development of low cost, appropriate clean energy technologies targeting the agricultural sector that have significant scale-up potential in developing countries. Grant support could be used for testing technology prototypes, refining engineering designs, marketing test take-up under various pricing and feature options, or other related activities. For the technology to qualify for this component, a direct, quantifiable, sustainable benefit to the agricultural value chain should be demonstrated.

b) Innovative Business Model Development – This program component will provide grant support for business model validation and preparation needed to scale one or more appropriate clean energy technologies targeting the agricultural sector in developing countries. Support could include business incubation, development or testing of marketing plans, payment schemes, distribution, or franchising models, plans to recruit, train, and hold management and technical staff, and other related activities.

 

Commercial Scaling of Technologies (Component Two)

The founding partners anticipate dedicating at least half of program resources to activities that will support operating businesses that have good prospects for profitably commercializing clean energy technologies in the agricultural sector in developing countries. Because scaling often requires significant resources, this stage will focus on activities where small amounts of public capital can leverage larger amounts of private capital. A combination of grants, debt, and guarantees are available for this component. Requests that allocate different risks and returns to different streams of funding are encouraged.

 

The Founding Partners may consider support for businesses directly, or through impact or commercial debt or equity funds in the energy/agriculture nexus. The Founding Partners have a variety of tools and approaches that could serve to catalyze incremental investment in this area. For example, Sida has an agreement with USAID with respect to the deployment of credit guarantees that could be applied to this sector. The African Development Bank is supporting a sustainable agriculture fund of funds that could be structured to catalyze financing in the energy/agriculture nexus. OPIC is committed to providing both outreach to deals and funds underway or approved and to considering financing and/or insurance support to eligible deals.

 

The Founding Partners seek comments on the program components described above, including the types of subsidies, incentives and risk mitigation that lenders and investors appear to require to increase exposure to projects in the energy/agriculture nexus in developing countries.

 

4. What Will Not Be Funded

Currently, the Founding Partners view the following activities as low priority and unlikely to receive program funding:

Applications that do not demonstrate a commitment to the stated development purpose, i.e., enhanced value of the agricultural chains, the promotion of food security, clean energy development, and increased economic growth in the target countries. Applications focused on research and development for a product without a clearly defined market or the likelihood of commercialization within a three year timeframe. Applications focused on improving energy access without an explicit benefit to the agriculture sector or agricultural projects without a clean energy component.

Energy from biomass projects that cannot directly demonstrate a benefit to the agricultural value chain. One-off renewable energy installations or pilot projects to support proven technologies for proven applications, unless they include an innovative component(s) to achieve scale, such as a new business model.

Projects that are based solely on fossil fuel-based generation technologies. Projects focused on increasing utilization of mechanized agriculture utilizing fossil fuel based technologies, e.g., tractors.

 

A social game in Georgia tries to bring residents together across traditional boundaries

http://www.niemanlab.org/2012/05/a-social-game-in-georgia-tries-to-bring-resi…

The developers behind Angry Birds said last August that players were averaging about 200 million minutes per day with the game. If that stat has held steady (and at the time Rovio said it was “growing exponentially”), it means that the world has played more than 300,000 years of Angry Birds.

In other words, stretched out linearly, our collective time spent flinging digital birds at pigs would predate the existence of modern humans. If you work in a newsroom, the thought of this level of audience engagement probably makes you swoon.

“The game industry is a $60 billion industry,” the Knight Foundation’s Jessica Goldfin told me. “When you talk about meeting people where they are, well, they’re playing games. Eleven million people play World of Warcraft…So how do you then take these mechanics, these games where people are, and build in some sort of higher social purpose or embed them within a social system?”

I recently caught up with Goldfin and the foundation’s Beverly Blake about a Knight-funded social-impact game called Macon Money, which was aimed at strengthening community ties and bolstering economic revitalization in Macon, Ga. This wasn’t a newsy experiment per se, but its focus on how to engage communities — and exploring new ways to connect them with one another — is in many ways applicable to newsrooms still finding their footing in an ever-changing digital media world.

“The goal was to create the environment where people who otherwise would not have had an opportunity to meet one another, to meet and get to know one another,” Blake told me. “The second goal was to use currency [invented for the game] to suport local businesses.”

So Knight — full disclosure: this site is, like many in journalism, also a Knight Foundation grantee — enlisted the game-design team at Area/Code, which hassince become Zynga New York. In all, Knight granted about $700,000 for research and implementation. The result was a community-wide game called Macon Money designed to encourage divergent groups to come together, collaborate, and earn money that they would then spend at local businesses.

Here’s how it worked: Players who signed up would receive half of a Macon Money bond. It was up to them to find the person in their community who received the other half. Then, the newly formed pair could redeem their bond for Macon Money currency, which some local businesses agreed to accept. (A similar experiment — only without the gaming aspect — with local currency played out in Western Massachusetts about five years ago.)

Macon bucks have an undeniably local aesthetic, with former resident Otis Redding’s image gracing the bills. The exchange rate is $1 USD to $1 Macon, and a total of $65,000 Macon Money bonds were issued in $10 – $100 increments. It was free to play, which Goldfin says made some participants dubious at first.

“We started out slow,” she said. “This was a brand new concept for all of us. There was a lot of apprehension about it and people thought, ‘Free money? I can spend it at these businesses? What’s the catch?’”

Over time, though, and with the help of word-of-mouth, traditional media coverage, informational videos, and boots-on-the-ground explanations from the team behind the game, people got “very excited, very involved, very committed to the game.” How the game spread reinforces the importance of multi-platform and multi-channel distribution when it comes to engaging an audience.

While gamification has creeped into the news world in fun and meaningful ways, the lessons for journalists from Macon Money have less to do with how newsrooms can use games in storytelling, and more to do with what games tell us about how people connect with one another and share information.

With its Games for Change initiative, Knight has spent plenty of time and money exploring and attempting to spur innovation in gaming that extends far beyond entertainment for its own sake. Here’s how the Knight Foundation explained how Macon Money fits into this mission earlier this week in a post-mortem about the experiment:

Unlike past foundation support for digital games, these took place in real-time with real people in the real world and they supported ongoing efforts to tackle local issues. There is already an existing body of research about how digital games have the potential to improve learning and influence behavior. But less attention has been paid to the effects of real-world games — i.e., games that are played out in the physical world. Knight wanted to explore which aspects of real-world games were most effective in addressing community issues.

Some of their findings: 78 percent of those who played Macon Money were under 40 years old; 70 percent were women; African Americans were underrepresented among players; most were employed full-time and earned more than $60,000 per year. Relatively few strong ties were formed, but about 15 percent of matched players became Facebook friends.

Blake says the overall results were “very encouraging,” because there was some evidence that the game forged and strengthened community ties: “When people get to know one another, even if it’s just a weak tie, that bodes well. Seventy percent of the people who responded on that note said that they would recognize the person [who had the other half of their bond] and say hello.”

The results were also positive with regard to economic development. About 46 percent of players said Macon Money took them to a local business that was new to them, and 92 percent reported having returned to that business after the game.

So what works — and what doesn’t — when it comes to audience engagement and community building in social-impact gaming? And how might these lessons be applied in newsrooms that want to launch games, or apps, or just generally rethink social engagement?

Goldfin offers what may be both the most obvious and most important point: “It was fun. Games are supposed to be fun. Often times, people are like, ‘We’re going to make a game about the First Amendment!’ or ‘We’re going to make a game about economic revitalization!’ Often the people who do that aren’t game designers.”

That brings us to some of the critical aspects from a development standpoint, like honoring the “value of design” by having the right people work on the right aspects of the project — then recalibrating as needed. For example, Macon Money needed seasoned game designers to build the infrastructure, but it also needed people who knew the Macon community first hand.

“You have to constantly balance, and manage, and negotiate the expertise of all of these elements,” Goldfin said. “Otherwise you won’t have success.”

The team also embraced an open source mentality, including sharing a blueprint for other communities interested in developing something simliar.

The project from the start required rethinking how to define the people that Macon Money aimed to reach, a task that is easily transferrable to “newsrooms that want to engage their constituents,” Goldfin said. When you start reconceptualizing how communities can be grouped, you can innovate cost-effective ways to reach them — whether it’s through games, content sections, events, tweet-ups, or some other channel.

“We usually define audiences or communities by very traditional demographics, but that no longer needs to be the limitation,” she said. “You can define communities through interest, rather than age. It’s the bigger picture. One size doesn’t fit all.”

 

Mock Mars ‘Astronauts’ to Help Cook Up a Mission Menu

http://www.space.com/16299-mock-mars-mission-astronaut-food.html

ITHACA, N.Y. — Among the many difficulties of sending people to Mars, the question of what they will eat is not the least of them.

Scientists are preparing to send six people on a mock mission to the Red Planet to study how best to feed astronauts en route and once they arrive. The six crewmembers will live inside an ersatz space habitat in Hawaii for four months, eating a mix of instant foods and self-cooked meals made from shelf-stable ingredients.

The “astronauts” will fill out detailed food surveys to track their enjoyment of the foods, as well as their health and emotional states.

“What they’ve found is that astronauts tend to come back from space underfed — they lose weight; they’re just not eating enough,” said one of the study’s leaders, Kim Binsted of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “Part of it is they’re not finding the food appetizing enough.”

The researchers hope to identify foods and cooking methods that could keep astronauts well-fed for an extended mission. They’ve already selected eight finalists, and must narrow it down to six prime and two backup crewmembers before they begin their stint on “Mars” in early 2013.

Getting to know each other

The finalists met last week here at Cornell University, home of another of the study’s leaders, Jean Hunter, a professor of biological and environmental engineering. The would-be astronauts spent a few days getting to know each other, taking cooking lessons from a Cornell hotel school chef, and going through checkouts like a test of their “nasal patency,” or smell. [Photos: Mock Astronauts Take Cooking Lessons for ‘Mars’]

“I love space exploration and I love food. I just found it very appealing, becoming a space chef,” said one of the finalists, nanomaterials scientist Yajaira Sierra-Sastre, who originally hails from Puerto Rico.

The researchers put out a call for applicants in February 2012, and were overwhelmed by the response,receiving 700 submissions for the project, called the Hawaii Space Exploration Analogue & Simulation (HI-SEAS). Of those 700 applicants, about 150 had all the qualifications, which included a science background and other skills that generally make them “astronaut-like,” the better to simulate the lifestyles and diets of real astronauts.

In fact, the mock mission may have to be pushed back a few weeks to allow three of the finalists, who also applied to be NASA astronauts, attend interviews if selected.

“Frankly I think they have a good chance, at least of making it to the interview stage,” Binstead told SPACE.com.

The finalists have a range of backgrounds: Some are studying for Ph.D.s in space-related fields, some are science communicators and educators, and one is a stay-at-home mom and former Navy helicopter pilot.

“I live on a sailboat, so when they said ‘confined spaces,’ I said ‘no problem,'” said Crystal Haney, the former pilot and current mom, who also runs her own personal training business.

Crew morale

HI-SEAS participants take cooking lessons.
The HI-SEAS participants will be eating a mix of instant meals and foods they cook themselves from shelf-stable ingredients.
CREDIT: Cornell University

In addition to studying how food affects astronauts’ health and productivity, the researchers will also be looking into its affect on morale.

“I’m curious about how important meal time will be and how that can really help the morale of the crew,” said another finalist, science journalist Kate Greene. “When you look at how space travel plays out, it’s about the people as much as about the technology, and food is about people.”

The scientists will be comparing the effects of instant meals versus those the crew cook by hand.  [Space Food Photos: What Astronauts Eat]

“There’s a huge social aspect of preparing food together, preparing for special occasions,” Binstead said. “It’s very stress-relieving as well. We have the hypothesis that cooking is going to be more satisfying in a lot of ways.”

However, whether cooked foods are sufficiently preferable to pre-prepared foods to overcome the greatercost and effort that goes into them is one of the team’s open questions.

Space studies

While on their mission, the crew will be posting lists of ingredients for their meals and soliciting recipe suggestions from the public. The setup will simulate the Mars base they may find themselves on, and not the spaceship used to transport them there. Thus, they will have a small oven, microwave and other kitchen basics. However, they will be using no foods that require refrigeration.

During the mission, each of the crewmembers will also be carrying out research of their own on topics ranging from the best exercise equipment to take to space, to designing antimicrobial socks for space travel, to improving the efficiency of space mission design.

Angelo Vermeulen, a Belgian biologist and artist, will be studying space habitat design.

“People are not robots,” he said. “A habitat has to be more than a mechanical environment that keeps people alive. It’s one of the big challenges of a mission to Mars.”

If all this sounds appealing to you, take heart. The researchers are planning several more iterations of the study in the future, so more chances to take a mock trip to Mars await.