Hawaii: The New Mars

Ever wonder what life on Mars is like?

Well, scientists who are about to participate in the longest study yet, eight months, at the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, or Hi-Seas for short, can tell you all about that. Hi-Seas is part of a NASA-financed study, the goal of this is to discover how well a group of people can work together and how compatible they can be when isolated from society which is vital for the trip to Mars.

This simulated trip will be held on the slopes of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano inside a two-story, 36-foot-wide, solar-powered dome. The living space for the six astronauts is approximately 1,000 square feet. There are two bathrooms, a dining area, a kitchen, a work area and a bedroom for each person. The dome only consists of one window, but it won’t be very comforting for the astronauts because the terrain around the dome is barren and looks similar to the surface of Mars. The astronauts will also be observed by researches through body movement trackers, cameras and electronic surveys as they reside in “Mars.”

The reason why this study is particularly vital is because the predicted journey to Mars and back is going to take approximately 18 months. This including six months to get there, six months to get back and 500 days residing on the planet. There are a lot of psychological risks linked to traveling for such a long period of time, being isolated from the community and living in a confined and foreign place. Kimberly Binsted, the principal investigator for this project and a professor of computer sciences and information at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, reported, “Right now, the psychological risks are still not completely understood and not completely corrected for.” This is why the eight month stay in the Mars simulated dome is so important, it is vital for scientists to discover how a small group of people, isolated from civilization, will work together and get along.

This is similar to another simulation: Biosphere 2. Biosphere 2 was a three acre glass and steel complex in the Arizona desert that served as a home for eight people whose mission was to test whether they could be self-sustaining in the sealed-off environment. Although Biosphere 2 was different than the simulation on Mars (people were completely isolated from both the community and others within the biosphere for two years), they both have very interesting results.

This isn’t the first simulated trip held in Hi-Seas. In April 2013 a experiment was conducted that included a variety of personal research projects. There were six projects in total that were conducted during a four month mock journey. These projects included how to improve the design of spacesuits and the execution of spacewalks, the difference in performance between 3D-printed tools and standard surgical instruments, developing method to distinguish between different kinds of minerals in the environment, how well plants grow under different wavelengths of light, how often the crew generated trash and what a “waste profile” would look like and lastly the psychological and emotional adjustment of the crew. The astronauts staying at Hi-Seas have to adapt to life in the simulated Mars dome and learn as they go.

Astronauts who have previously spent time in the Hi-Seas simulation dome said that the journey in the dome wasn’t completely smooth. “In the last 60 days, the crew and I have faced power system failures, water shortages, illness, fatigue, electrical fluctuations, spacesuit leaks, medical emergencies, network dropouts, storms, habitat leaks and numerous equipment failures,” reported commander Stedman in a blog post midway through the mission. Facing these challenges now will definitely help NASA with its future mission to Mars, which is predicted to occur in the 2030s. “How the crew responds to each crisis will help future mission planners devise new techniques to mitigate risks and better prepare astronauts for the challenges of long duration missions,” stated Stedman in his blog post.

After the astronauts had completed their four month journey on July 25. The crew was looking forward to returning to their normal life, experiencing the things they’ve missed and seeing their loved ones. While on the crew began to miss basic features of life on Earth, like sounds of nature, fresh air and non-repetitive days. But most of all the crew decided that they all really missed normal food. Lockwood, one of the astronauts on the trip, said, “We’ve basically been subsisting on mush. Flavorful mush, but mush nonetheless.”  Although the astronauts lived a busy, stressful, and completely new life in Hi-Seas for 120 days, none of them regretted embarking on this mission. “I’m glad that I did this. I want to believe that my participation in the experiments that were conducted will have a positive impact on space exploration,” Stedman said.

The crew that recently moved into the dome to simulate life on Mars will return on approximately June 20. When they return there will be more information about what life on Mars could be like and the psychological effects that could come with being isolated for such an extensive period of time.

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About Bonnie Wong

Bonnie, a junior at Lick-Wilmerding, is a co-managing editor of the Paper Tiger and editor of the Science and Technology section. Bonnie plays soccer for Lick and enjoys participating in outdoor activities in her free time. In addition to simply writing and reading she hopes to explore different writing styles this year while writing for the Paper Tiger. This is her second year on the Paper Tiger.

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