The Beat

  • Senate Confirms Suzanne Case to Head State Land Department

    ·By Nathan Eagle
    The state Senate on Friday unanimously confirmed Suzanne Case to head the Department of Land and Natural Resources. “Ms. Case’s wide range of experience at The Nature Conservancy, which ranges from land acquisition, to watershed management, to the restoration of near-shore marine resources, makes her well suited for the position of Chairperson of the Board of Land and Natural Resources,” Sen. Laura Thielen, chair of the Senate Water and Land Committee, said in a release. “Her ability to create partnerships in order to accomplish her agency’s mission will also serve the Department well,” Thielen said. Suzanne Case stands with Gov. David Ige at an April 7 press conference announcing her nomination to lead the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. The Senate confirmed her Friday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat After withdrawing his first choice of Carleton Ching over concerns about his lack of qualifications, Gov. David Ige’s second choice more than met public muster. Case, who worked for The Nature Conservancy for 28 years, has broad experience protecting natural resources throughout the islands and internationally. “I deeply appreciate the Senate’s vote of confidence to serve as the Chair of DLNR and I’m very excited to start as quickly as possible,” Case said in the release. “It’s a very important job for Hawaii and I will give it my all.” Read past Civil Beat coverage here.
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  • Did Bullying By a Supervisor Cause an HPD Officer to Take His Own Life?

    ·By Patti Epler
    Hawaii News Now and reporter Lynn Kawano have a story on the death of HPD officer Kyle Suemori, a 42-year-old cop who shot himself on April 13. Suemori’s colleagues on the force believe his supervisor, who is not named, may have contributed to the officer’s death by bullying him. The supervisor has been reassigned and an internal affairs investigation is underway. Kawano and the station treat this difficult but important story carefully — including interviewing a number of professionals who are very thoughtful about the situation. But it still is causing a stir among police supporters who, according to the amazingly nasty comments, think it was bad form to air the piece before the funeral if at all. Police work is not for the faint-hearted and it takes a special person to do it. We should all be grateful for the men and women who are capable and willing to put their lives on the line for the rest of us. But it also comes at a high price and higher rates of all sorts of things — divorce, alcoholism, domestic violence, even suicide — are an occupational hazard. HNN and Kawano should be applauded for shining a light on what may be going on inside HPD, a very secretive operation compared to most departments in the country. And a community discussion of the very real problems police officers face is a good way for HPD to build some much-needed bridges with the community they need as much as we need them. HNN reporter Lynn
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  • House, Senate Lawmakers Debate Education Bills

    ·By Nathan Eagle
    It’s crunch time at the Capitol. House and Senate lawmakers are working to reach an agreement on well over a dozen different education bills affecting kids in preschool all the way up through the university level. Conference committee members said Wednesday that they were close on most of the bills. Rep. Roy Takumi speaks during a joint House-Senate conference committee meeting on education bills. Cory Lum/Civil Beat Rep. Isaac Choy and Sen. Brian Taniguchi are the lead negotiators on many of the higher-ed bills, including an omnibus measure that makes comprehensive changes affecting the entire University of Hawaii system. They are reconvening for many of their bills at 1 p.m., Monday. Rep. Roy Takumi and Sen. Michelle Kidani have the lead for bills affecting the Department of Education, ranging from proposals to combat bullying to restructuring early childhood education and creating financial incentives for teachers. House Bill 11 would give teachers a bonus for maintaining their national board certification and teaching at a school that could use a good educator. There’s debate over whether the Legislature should retroactively give some 54 teachers a $5,000 bonus that they should’ve gotten last year but didn’t because lawmakers accidentally didn’t renew the program in the craziness that ensues at the end of each session. The conference committee is reconvening at 2 p.m. Friday to hear HB11 and several others.
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  • Vermont Looks to Do What Hawaii Won’t — Ban Ivory

    ·By Nathan Eagle
    Vermont is getting closer to banning ivory, something Hawaii failed to do again this year. New Jersey banned ivory last year, the first state to do so, and New York passed a law limiting sales. Several other states are looking at the issue. The latest concern in Vermont is an effort to exempt old pianos and antiques, the Associated Press reported Thursday. Apparently the debate there ranged from the slaughter and near extinction of African elephants to terrorism. A 2008 study found Hawaii to be one of the top markets for elephant ivory in the U.S. The Hawaii Legislature has considered banning ivory for years but has yet to pass a bill. Legislation cleared the House this session but died in the Senate. An elephant at the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand, 2009. Christian Haugen/Flickr
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  • New Tesla Batteries May Answer Hawaii Energy Problem

    ·By Nathan Eagle
    Tesla is expected to make a major announcement next Thursday about a new battery that can store energy from rooftop solar systems instead of dumping it back into the grid, which can overwhelm old utility infrastructure. All eyes are on Hawaii, the nation’s leader in solar energy with 12 percent of homes having some type of system. Everyone from Gizmodo to the New York Times have featured the islands and Hawaiian Electric Co. in recent stories about the problem of so much solar energy being produced that the utility can’t handle it. Solar panels on a parking structure in Kakaako. PF Bentley/Civil Beat “The absolute best idea is for homeowners to start installing batteries that can store the power for later use instead of giving the power back to the utilities, something called peak load shaving,” Alissa Walker wrote in a piece for Gizmodo on Thursday. Tesla Motors, which produces those fancy yet relatively affordable electric cars, hasn’t revealed much about its new home battery or the utility-scale one it’s also making. The batteries could store solar as well as energy from other renewable sources like wind and waves. Hawaii would top the list of places that could benefit from the new technology. A front-page NYT story Sunday neatly laid out the problem the state is facing as residents, struggling to afford among the nation’s highest electric bills, are having trouble installing rooftop PV systems because HECO can’t handle the load. The utility was designed to send power to homes, not receive it. “Hawaii’s case is not
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  • Speaker Souki, Rep. Ward Hold Campaign Fundraisers During Session

    ·By Nathan Eagle
    House Speaker Joe Souki and Rep. Gene Ward, minority leader emeritus, are holding fundraisers Thursday as the legislative session enters its most critical period. With sine die coming up May 7, state lawmakers have begun the conference committee period when House and Senate negotiators work to resolve differences in bills — or not. Souki is holding his fundraiser at Wolfgang Steakhouse on Maui; he represents District 8 there. The suggested donation is $1,000. Ward’s fundraiser is at Mandalay Restaurant in Honolulu. The Hawaii Kai rep is seeking $100 to $1,000 per person. Will the cash during session sway any votes? Who knows. Republican Rep. Gene Ward, left, and House Speaker Joe Souki, a Democrat, confer on the House floor during the 2014 session. PF Bentley/Civil Beat
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  • Micronesian Health Care Talk at UH Law School

    ·By Chad Blair
    Hawaii’s Micronesian population is estimated to be at least 15,000, and as with all new arrivals here they are making many contributions to our community. The also face huge challenges — among them, health insurance. Over the last five weeks, leaders in the local Micronesian community have organized outreach and listening sessions in response to the recent state decision to terminate Med-QUEST benefits for Compact of Free Association (COFA) migrants. The Laledron Dance Group performs at the Celebrate Micronesia event held at the Honolulu Museum of Art School on March 28. Cory Lum/Civil Beat The goal is to enroll them under the state’s federal health-insurance exchange that is part of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). “While community advocates and the Hawaii Health Connector struggled to transition over 7,500 individuals to ACA-based healthcare plans, confusion and problems prevailed,” according to a flier promoting Thursday talk. The panel speakers are Dr. Neal Palafox, professor and former chair of the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the John A. Burns School of Medicine; Joakim “Jojo” Peter, a doctoral student in the special education program at the UH Manoa College of Education and a community advocate for Micronesians; Dr. Sheldon Riklon, a Marshallese family physician born and raised in the Marshall Islands; and Megan Kiyomi Inada Hagiwara, a UH graduate in Public Health, Epidemiology.
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  • Case Dismissed: A Win for the Kailua Kite Surfer

    ·By Patti Epler
    In February, Don Farley was helping a group of kitesurfers launch their contraptions off the beach at Kailua Bay park. He was cited by police for illegal commercial activity, which is prohibited at the park. You can read the Community Voice Don wrote for us about the whole experience here but suffice it to say that the retired Pearl Harbor shipyard project manager was not happy that he had to spend hundreds of dollars to fight the ticket in court. That day in court came Tuesday and, probably to no one’s surprise, the case against Don was dismissed. According to an email Don sent us, the court proceeding was about 90 minutes late getting started and just before he thought he would be called to answer for the crime, the deputy prosecutor announced the case was being tossed. “At first I was thinking yes! victory! beers for all,” Don writes. “Then I realized again what a sad, sad way to be treated at a public park in Kailua. Even if you are law abiding, there is nothing to prevent a kiter from receiving a citation and being drug into the legal system, forced to spend an unreasonable amount of time and money to explain why they liked to help people.” “Draw your own conclusions but for me it created new friendships and reminded me of what a most excellent beach community we have. Be positive, don’t judge people and kite, kite, kite. “Aloha, Don” A kitesurfer on Kailua Beach. Don Farley  
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  • How Takai and Gabbard Marked Earth Day

    ·By Chad Blair
    Hawaii’s representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives are marking Earth Day this Wednesday in different but complementary ways. The 1st Congressional District’s Mark Takai released a video message and the introduction of legislation along with Reps. Jared Huffman of California and Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia that they say “will transform the U.S. Postal Service fleet into a global leader in efficiency and innovation.” All are Democrats. Takai has this to say about the Federal Leadership in Energy Efficient Transportation (FLEET) Act: “While there has been great work accomplished nationwide, there is still much more that can be done to protect our environment. The legislation introduced today will help to modernize the USPS, greatly reducing emissions and increasing fuel efficiency standards of the world’s largest civilian vehicle fleet. In addition, the bill would also save the USPS hundreds of millions of dollars in annual fuel and maintenance costs.” Happy #EarthDay2015! If you have a moment watch Congressman Takai’s #EarthDay message below. – #TeamRepTakai https://t.co/ENAWaigm2R — Mark Takai (@RepMarkTakai) April 22, 2015 Meanwhile, our 2nd Congressional District’s Tulsi Gabbard says she’s happy with Tuesday’s announcement by the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to recognize a “collaborative landscape partnerships” that will protect coastal reefs in West Hawaii, West Maui and Heeia. Says Gabbard: “It is Earth Day today — a reminder for all of us think about how we can take action to protect our aina, being inspired by our state motto — Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono
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  • Honolulu: The Emerald City

    ·By Chad Blair
    There’s an article in The Huffington Post Hawaii on this fine Earth Day reporting that Honolulu is the greenest city in the nation. We earned the designation in large part because of good air quality and lots of solar panels on Oahu. The study was conducted by NerdWallet.com. No mention of the bad air quality on days when the vog roles in from Kilauea, as it is beginning to this week. And no mention of challenges in getting Hawaiian Electric to accept all those photo-voltaic panels, either, something the New York Times reported this week in Solar Power Battle Puts Hawaii at Forefront of Worldwide Changes. But still, beats Newark or Houston. Bishop Square in downtown Honolulu. Chad Blair/Civil Beat
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  • Legislature in Session? Time to Raise Campaign Cash!

    ·By Chad Blair
    Tuesday was the 50th day of the 60-day session for the Hawaii Legislature. Many lawmakers are busy trying to reach compromise on differences between House and Senate legislation on big things the rail tax surcharge extension, medical marijuana dispensaries and the state’s hospital system. Still, for some lawmakers there is always time to pass the hat for political donations, as was the case Tuesday night at Grand Cafe & Bakery in downtown Honolulu. Flickr: Tax Credits Democrats raking in the dough (at a bakery … get it? ha-ha) included Vice Speaker John Mizuno, Majority Leader Scott Saiki, Majority Floor Whip Cindy Evans, Assistant Majority Leader Chris Lee and Reps. Dee Morikawa and Tom Brower. The asking price: $100 a head. Could some of those contributions be intended to sway positions and legislation? Yep.  
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  • Debt-Free College? Some Democrats in Congress Embrace the Idea

    ·By Chad Blair
    U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), as well as U.S. Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) on Tuesday introduced resolutions in the Senate and House of Representatives to help make sure that students have access to debt-free higher education. “Over the last 30 years, the cost of college has increased by 300 percent, forcing some students to take on overwhelming student loan debt or putting a college degree entirely out of reach for others,” according to Schatz’s office. “Student loan debt is now the highest form of personal debt in the nation, reaching over $1.3 trillion for 38 million student loan borrowers across the country.” The halls of Congress. Cory Lum/Civil Beat In a statement, Schatz said, “A higher education is the best way for people to move up the economic ladder, but the rising cost of college in Hawaii and across the country has made it harder for students to earn a degree and get ahead.” The message, he said, is this: “We need to do more to make college more affordable for all students so that they can graduate without debt holding them back.” In an article noting the resolutions, The Nation wrote, “Non-binding resolutions and a three-page policy paper don’t (yet) represent a serious legislative push to eliminate student debt at public universities and colleges, but it’s a fairly remarkable idea to embrace, particularly for more moderate Democrats like Schumer, who is likely
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  • At Long Last: Hawaiian Hoary Bat to Be Official State Land Mammal

    ·By Chad Blair
    Legislation designating the ōpe‘ape‘a or Hawaiian hoary bat (Lasiurus cinerus semotus) as the official state land mammal “flew through the Senate, glided through the House of Representatives, and will land on Governor Ige’s desk in the attic of the Capitol Building for his signature” Wednesday afternoon. That’s according to a press release from the Senate Minority Research Office. “The ōpe‘ape‘a will join the pulelehua or Kamehameha butterfly (insect), nene goose (bird), humpback whale (marine mammal), monk seal (mammal) and humuhumunukunukuapua‘a (fish) to take its rightful place in the elite club of official Hawaii state animals,” the release explains. State Sen. Sam Slom, the only Republican in the Senate, has championed the designation for years and finally got enough people to agree with him. The Hawaiian hoary bat. Flickr: Forest and Kim Starr “The ōpe‘ape‘a is worthy of the title of state land mammal because it has been here for so long, and faithfully provides free pest control services to us all,” says Slom. “Most importantly, this bipartisan effort to elevate the bat’s status to state land mammal will increase awareness of the environmental issues affecting its survival.” Here are some bat facts: The ōpe‘ape‘a is Hawaii’s only native land mammal, a subspecies found only in Hawa‘i. Fossils reveal its presence in Hawaii as early as 10,000 years ago. The ōpe‘ape‘a is nocturnal, though no evidence of vampirical activity has been reported.  The ōpe‘ape‘a is insectivorous and eats mosquitoes, moths, beetles, termites, flies and other insects. A single Hawaiian hoary bat
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  • Is Collecting Taxes a ‘War Crime’ in Hawaii?

    ·By Chad Blair
    Here’s an article in The Daily Beast about a “growing movement of defense attorneys, tax dodgers, and legal scholars in Hawaii” who dismiss the idea that we are part of the United States but rather an occupied kingdom. “In the past couple years they’ve been daring D.C. to prove them wrong — calling any attempt to collect taxes from them ‘war crimes’ and challenging the feds in courts around the globe,” the article says. It’s written by M.L. Nestel, who recently penned a Daily Beast piece on whether Hawaii has hate crimes. Iolani Palace. Cory Lum/Civil Beat As in the earlier article, Nestle quotes Keanu Sai — identified by Nestel as an attorney — who argues that the federal and state governments are receiving “stolen money” from those who pay them taxes — hence the “war crimes” charge. Williamson Chang, a law professor at the University of Hawaii, is also a supporter of the kingdom legal theory. Nestel makes reference to the CEO of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Kamana‘o Crabbe, who caused a headache for some trustees with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs last year when he sought an opinion from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893.
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  • It’s Time to Celebrate Architecture Month in Hawaii

    ·By Chad Blair
    Civil Beat has written about why so many buildings in Honolulu are colored beige. Despite the blandness, there are actually quite a few architectural gems in the islands. The Honolulu chapter of the American Institute of Architects is getting the word out that it’s time once again to celebrate the built environment in Hawaii. The YWCA on Richards Street in downtown Honolulu. AIA A slate of films, tours and “firm crawls” — it refers to the Center for Architecture and several Honolulu design firms opening their doors for public visits — are scheduled from now until May 1. Events are scheduled on the Big Island, too. Why celebrate Architecture Month, now in its ninth year? “This great tradition started to highlight the power of good design in making our communities better places to live, work and play,” says the AIA. “We hope by elevating awareness of architecture, you will be inspired by your surroundings on a daily basis.” The First Hawaiian Bank building in Honolulu. AIA
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  • More Federal Funds to End Homelessness Among Vets

    ·By Rui Kaneya
    Hawaii will receive more than $1.2 million through a federal program to fight homelessness among veterans. The new injection of funds bolsters the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program — run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — that provides rental assistance and clinical services for homeless veterans. In Hawaii, the program is projected to help 110 vets this year. “This is an urgent issue that must be addressed with a multifaceted strategy, and $1.2 million in housing funding for Hawaii veterans is a helpful step in the right direction,” U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who served two tours of duty in the Middle East as a member of the Hawaii National Guard, said in a statement. Tents line the sidewalks at Ohe Street near Waterfront Park in Kakaako. Cory Lum/Civil Beat The expansion of the HUD-VASH program is part of the national effort to eliminate the veterans homelessness by the end of the year — a goal President Barack Obama set in 2010. With the deadline fast approaching, Hawaii has a lot to work on. As Civil Beat recently reported, the HUD-VASH program isn’t finding traction in Hawaii’s tight rental housing market. The latest “point in time” count, which was released on Monday, bears that out: The number of homeless veterans in Oahu stood at 467, an increase of nearly 52 percent since 2009. You can read the full “point in time” count here: Oahu 2015 PIT report from
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  • DOE Wants Input on New School Calendar

    ·By Jessica Terrell
    Have an opinion about when public school classes should start and end each year? The Department of Education is collecting survey responses until Wednesday for a new school calendar starting in the 2016-17 school year. One of the choices under consideration is aligning classes more closely with mainland schools by having students start Aug. 22 and finish by June 15. The DOE convened a working group to study the issue this year, with an emphasis on balancing the number of days in each quarter, and finishing the first semester before students go on winter break. Creating a school schedule that kept kids out of class during the hottest days of the year wasn’t feasible, according to the DOE, because some of the hottest days of the year are in September and October. Read more from the DOE here or go straight to the survey here.
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  • Hirono Objects to New Freedom of Information Act Exemption

    ·By Chad Blair
    Politico reports that cybersecurity legislation in the U.S. Congress “could create the first brand-new exemption to the Freedom of Information Act in nearly half a century — a prospect that alarms transparency advocates and some lawmakers.” The language contained in the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act has upset U.S. Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), who wrote a statement accompanying the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the cyber bill. The new exemption would would cover “information shared with or provided to” the federal government. “We are unconvinced that it is necessary to create an entirely new exemption to the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA,” the senators argue. “Government transparency is critical in order for citizens to hold their elected officials and bureaucrats accountable; however, the bill’s inclusion of a new FOIA exemption is overbroad and unnecessary as the types of information shared with the government through this bill would already be exempt from unnecessary public release under current FOIA exemptions.” The U.S. Supreme Court Building. Cory Lum/Civil Beat The FOIA law allows the public — and journalists — access to information held by government agencies, information that often leads to significant discoveries about what exactly our government does. Hirono and Heinrich, who are members of the Intelligence Committee, say that FOIA exemptions should be made only after stakeholders can weigh in through a public meeting process. As Politico explains, “Another provision in the legislation would require that ‘cyber threat indicators and defensive measures’ which companies or individuals share with the federal government be ‘withheld,
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  • 24 Maps and Charts That Explain Marijuana on 4/20

    ·By Chad Blair
    In honor of April 20 — or 4/20, to those in the know — there is a lot of pakalolo-related content floating around the Internet. That includes our new Civil Beat Poll on how we feel about medical marijuana dispensaries (good) and legalizing the bud (not good). After you’ve read that story, take a gander at this story titled 24 maps and charts that explain marijuana. The Economist “People have been growing and using marijuana for thousands of years,” Vox reports. “Ancient texts praised the plant for its versatility — it was used for its psychoactive and medical effects and to make clothes and paper. But in 1934, the US effectively banned the plant with strict taxes and regulations — a prohibition that, despite some major changes to the regulatory model, remains to this day.” Of course, things are beginning to turn: “public support for marijuana legalization in the US is at an all-time high. And in 2014, voters in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, approved legalization.”  
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  • Hawaii Congresswoman Taking the 7-Day ‘VegPledge’

    ·By Chad Blair
    Today is the beginning of US VegWeek, when folks are encouraged “to explore the many benefits of vegetarian eating by taking the 7-Day VegPledge.” “Be healthy, save the environment, protect farmed animals, and eat a ton of tasty food!” says a press release. Tulsi Gabbard, the U.S. representative for Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, is among those taking the pledge. “As a lifelong vegetarian, I am proud to support US VegWeek and encourage others to take the 7-Day VegPledge,” says Gabbard in a press releases from VegWeek. “Centering your diet around plant-based foods also has a positive impact on our environment and improving public health.” Others touting the benefits of meat-free meals include former President Bill Clinton, U.S. Senator Cory Booker and Ellen DeGeneres. I’m encouraging my followers to take the 7day #VegPledge. Take part for your health & a positive environmental impact pic.twitter.com/45LVG29eso — Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiPress) April 19, 2015
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Countdown to UH Mars Food Mission Team’s Return to Earth

·By civilbeat

Six researchers who have spent more than 100 days on a simulated space journey are on their way back to Earth. 

Or back to society, that is.

The HI-SEAS mission began in April and is expected to conclude later this month. The six researchers, who were selected from a pool of 700 applicants, have been living and working like astronauts. They’ve suited up in space gear whenever they’ve ventured outside their simulated Martian base and cooked meals from a list of dehydrated and shelf-stable food items.

The study was led by the University of Hawaii at Manoa and Cornell University and aimed to evaluate new food types and preparation strategies to keep astronauts well-nourished during space exploration. The research was funded by NASA’s Human Research Program. 

The six researchers compared crew-cooked and pre-prepared food systems — all while simulating the living and working experience of astronauts on a real space mission.

They’ll announce the winners of the HI-SEAS recipe contest upon their “return.” Check out some of the recipes that have already been tested out @HI_SEAS on Twitter.

Photo: Dr. Yajaira Sierra-Sastre, a researcher, next to the “hab.” (Photo courtesy of Dr. Sian Proctor)

— Alia Wong

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