While it is still some time off before humans can reach Mars, a group of six volunteers have already embarked on a year-long mission to the Red Planet, right in the middle of Hawaii. As part of the fourth Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (or HI-SEAS 4), the volunteers will be spending the next year in isolation, inside a dome-like habitat on the slopes of the island’s Mauna Loa volcano. Funded by NASA, the project seeks to study the crew’s cohesion and performance during a long-duration space travel.
Started in 2013, the HI-SEAS is the result of a collaboration between the University of Hawaii at Manoa and Cornell University, aimed at conducting cost-effective simulation missions to Mars. According to Kim Binstead, the principal investigator at HI-SEAS, the current mission is by far the longest, with earlier simulations lasting anywhere between four to eight months. Binstead said:
We need to understand how to pick crews and how to support crews while they’re on the mission in order for us to get to Mars and back safely.
For the experiment, a team of six volunteers, three men and three women, will have to live inside a specially-built dome, situated at an altitude of about 8,000 ft (2,400 m), for the next twelve months. Measuring up to 36 ft (around 11 m) in diameter and nearly 20 ft (or 6 m) in depth, the solar-powered structure to designed to mimic the Martian environment as closely as possible. The crew includes an architecture student, an MD, a space scientist, a physicist, an astrobiologist and a soil scientist, from Germany, France and the United States. Andrzej Stewart, one of the volunteers, said:
I’m looking forward to getting to act like an astronaut for a year, because I’ve wanted to be an astronaut for most of my life. I’m not a real astronaut yet but I’m getting closer and closer to that dream and this is a step in that direction.
The primary aim of the experiment is to determine how staying in isolation, for extended periods of time, would affect the crew’s morale and performance. During the course of the project, the volunteers will be fed freeze-dried food, similar to the kind eaten by astronauts in actual missions. What is more, they will be required to don simulated spacesuits every time they step outside the dome. Sheyna Gifford, a member of the team, added:
Well I think it’s taken for granted that we’ll all miss our friends and family but just this, the wind in your face, the sun, that I’m gonna miss a lot and you don’t notice it really till it’s gone.
Source: University of Hawaii at Manoa