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Astronauts Wanted: Experiment in Hawaii to Test Mars Menus

NASA/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Researchers are looking for six able-bodied volunteers and two backups to be cooped up for 120 days and nights in a make-believe Mars base early in 2013.

The experiment is called HI-SEAS -- short for Hawaii Space Exploration Analogue & Simulation -- and would have the would-be astronauts live in a habitat amid the volcanic rubble on Hawaii's Big Island. The researchers are interested in finding out what real astronauts might eat, and whether they would cook and consume enough to sustain themselves on a long mission.

"Anyone eating a restricted diet will soon get tired of it," said Jean Hunter, a professor of biological and environmental engineering at Cornell University and an organizer of the experiment. "Astronauts on long missions generally don't eat enough. That's good for a diet on Earth, but bad in space, because all the problems of microgravity, like bone and muscle loss, are exacerbated if you don't get enough calories."

The researchers would make the experiment fairly realistic -- the crew members would have limited communications with mission control, and wear makeshift spacesuits whenever they went outside. Inside, they would be limited to the food supplies that had been packed in their habitat -- long-lasting staples such as flour, sugar, beans, rice, olive oil, dehydrated meat and cheese.

Even though NASA has no specific plans for a Mars expedition, it is funding the preliminary research.

Applications for HI-SEAS will be accepted until Feb. 29. Candidates must be nonsmokers in good health, between the ages of 21 and 65, with bachelor's degrees in engineering, math or appropriate sciences. Special consideration will be given to those who could use the four months for related experiments in geology or long-duration spaceflight.

"This could make a difference for Mars missions, or it could be helpful to future astronauts at lunar outposts, who might spend most of their careers there," said Hunter.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio