Six Scientists Emerge From an Isolation Dome After an Eight-Month Mars Simulation

Tuesday, 19 September 2017 - 11:22AM
Mars
Tuesday, 19 September 2017 - 11:22AM
Six Scientists Emerge From an Isolation Dome After an Eight-Month Mars Simulation
Image credit: HI-SEAS
One of the next stamps on humanity's galactic passport is Mars, but before we can get an astronaut there, we have to make sure they're ready. A group of men and women with the University of Hawaii-operated, NASA-funded HI-SEAS Program (Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation) recently completed the fifth mock Mars isolation simulation inside of a big white dome in an abandoned quarry on the northside of the Mauna Loa volcano.

For eight months, the Mission V crew treated the site like they were Matt Damon stuck on the red planet in The Martian, conducting experiments inside the dome, wearing spacesuits when they needed to leave the habitat, and eating only shelf-stable foods and lab-grown vegetables. 



The objective of the simulation is to allow researchers to live and perform geological field work under conditions similar to the ones astronauts would experience on Mars: small living quarters, foreign terrain, and delayed/limited contact with the outside world. The Mission V crew entered the dome on January 19 and emerged for the first time without their suits on September 17. They were greeted by cameras, human faces (other than the ones they spent the last eight months looking at), and a feast of fresh fruit.

The simulation isn't as extreme as the isolation scenarios in The Martian or Duncan Jones' Moon, but I would imagine that 241 days in an apartment with five other people and only 1200 square feet of usable floor space would take a serious toll on one's mental state, even if everyone was friendly and a joy to be around under normal circumstances.

"There are certainly technical challenges to be overcome," said IT specialist Laura Lark. "There are certainly human factors to be figured out, that's part of what HI-SEAS is for. But I think that overcoming those challenges is just a matter of effort." In their immediate post-sim interviews, the crew seemed pretty jazzed on the experience, but a look at their personal journals may reveal a lot more about what it was like in the dome.
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