HILO, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Republican Sen. Rand Paul drew laughs Thursday when he criticized federal funding of a research program in Hawaii. But scientists on the Big Island, where the program is being done, say it's no joke.
"For any of you college students looking for jobs, Uncle Sam has got a job for you," said Rand at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference in suburban Washington. "The pay is $5,000, all expenses paid. The study is in Hawaii. But the requirements are onerous. Only a few could qualify. You have to like food. The study is to develop a menu for when we colonize mars. I am not making this up," he said, drawing laughter from the audience.
"Guess what a bunch of college students came up with for the menu? Pizza!" he added, drawing more laughs and applause.
"It's not Mars pizza," said Dr. Kim Binsted, an associate professor of information and computer sciences at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She's one of the members of the research team conducting the study, which was funded by a $947,000 grant from NASA to U.H. and Cornell University.
Unlike going to the moon, which takes about three days each way, it takes about two and-a-half to three years to go to Mars and back. Binsted said scientists are trying to determine how to supply astronauts with enough food that will last that long.
"If we can reduce the weight by having more efficient food systems, sending as little water as possible, and yet sending food, enough water to keep our astronauts alive, we can make going to Mars feasible," said Binsted.
The study will be conducted on a barren lava field in the saddle area of the Big Island near Mauna Loa, an area that mimics Martian conditions. The crew will spend four months simulating a Mars mission.
"Senator Paul is under the misconception that a lot of mainlanders are under, that there's nothing in Hawaii except for sandy beaches and swaying palm trees," said Binsted.
And of the six-member crew, just one is a college student, and he's studying for a master's degree. The rest include a biologist, a geology professor and a research space scientist. They are getting paid $5,000 plus expenses.
Binsted said the study really doesn't cost that much money when it comes to doing research for a big Mars mission. "This kind of analog study, long-duration, in a space-like environment, is actually a very inexpensive and budget conscious way of answering those questions," she said.
The six-member crew will begin their mission on April 15th.
Related link: Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation site