A group of researchers has just wrapped up an 8-month experiment that required them to live in isolation at the base of Hawaii’s most active volcano, Mauna Loa.
As part of the experiment, run by NASA and the University of Hawaii, six people lived in a Mars-like habitat eating freeze-dried and canned food. Their only communications with the outside world were subject to a 20-minute delay (that’s how long it takes communications to travel between Mars and Earth), and their living quarters were small – 1,200 square feet for four men and two women. Each member of the team wore a sensor to gauge his or her mood; the sensors monitored voice levels, whether people were avoiding each other, and whether they were arguing with each other. Crew members also kept journals to track how they were feeling.
The crew wasn’t confined to their living space, but if they chose to leave the dome on Hawaii’s rocky, reddish surface, they were required to wear space suits just as they would on Mars.
The experiment was designed to help NASA choose astronauts with the right traits to live on Mars for a 2- to 3-year mission on the red planet.
The space agency plans to send humans to Mars by 2030, which means these experiments are vital in creating a successful first mission.
Kim Binstead, the project’s lead investigator, is a professor at the University of Hawaii. The project is called the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, or HI-SEAS.
“This is our fifth mission, and we have learned a lot over those five missions. We've learned, for one thing, that conflict, even in the best of teams, is going to arise," Binsted said. "So what's really important is to have a crew that, both as individuals and a group, is really resilient, is able to look at that conflict and come back from it.”
There will be one more NASA-funded HI-SEAS study to round out the knowledge the space agency needs to send a crew to Mars.
“So the previous three missions, the four, eight and 12 month missions, those were primarily looking at crew cohesion and performance," Binsted said. "On this mission and going forward we are looking at crew selection and composition.”
What Do You Think?
Would you volunteer for a project like this one, or are you happy to watch it all unfold? Do you think NASA is really going to be able to send a manned expedition to Mars within the next 12 years? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this experiment and the future of humans on Mars, so please join the conversation on Facebook or on Twitter using the hashtags #Mars and #NASA.