Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Vacationing Near Mars

My wife and I vacation every year on the Kohala Coast north of Kona, about 8,000 feet below where six people pretended they were on Mars.

Mauna Loa Mars colonistWe cook fish and steak on the barbie on our condo lanai or step out to Merriman’s in Waimea. The would-be Mars colonists dined on dehydrated, non-perishable and probably unpalatable “food.”

Carole and I occasionally slip into Tommy Bahama’s at Mauna Lani or stop off at Kona Brewing. The intrepid space wannabes drank whatever out of high-tech sippy cups.

We wear beach attire. They wore space suits.

It is one thing to go to the Big Island for the Ironman Triathlon. It is another to camp in a 2-story plastic dome plopped on the volcanic shard of Mauna Loa for four months.

According to The Atlantic, the barren encampment funded by NASA  was designed to see what life might entail if you hopped a rocket to the Red Planet.

The camper-researchers were selected by the University of Hawaii and Cornell University. No mention of whether the selection committees viewed this as a form of detention for badly behaving students.

Findings from this experimental Mars camp-out will be shared later this year at the International Astronautical Congress in Beijing. Don’t anticipate any blockbuster recipes.

The research team was specifically tasked with how to combat food boredom, which by the way can be a problem a lot closer to home than Mars.

From all indications, imagination didn’t outsmart the palate. Researchers dreamed up all sorts of recipes – making a Cajun jambalaya with Spam and marrying canned meat, curry and fried noodles. They manufactured some kind of seafood chowder and a chicken enchilada soup, trying to trick the tastebuds. They munched on a variety of freeze-dried fruit.

Littler wonder, when the campers arrived back at sea level, they made a beeline for an outdoor market selling real fruits and vegetables.

The apparent winning foodstuff for the research team was Nutella, whose producers now can brag that the hazelnut-flavored spread tastes good anywhere – even on Mars.

When we return this fall to the gentle ocean breezes of Hawaii, we will make a point of looking up at the volcano and imagining what it would be like to camp on its Mars-like surface. We won’t be wearing space suits or sporting any camping gear. But we will toast the colonists with a good cabernet.


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