Mars re­search crew to emerge

Cassini makes death plunge into Saturn

Arab Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

HONOLULU, Sept 16, (Agen­cies): Af­ter eight months of liv­ing in iso­la­tion on a re­mote Hawaii vol­cano, six NASA-backed re­search sub­jects will emerge from their Mars-like habi­tat on Sun­day and re­turn to civ­i­liza­tion.

Their first or­der of busi­ness af­ter sub­sist­ing on mostly freeze-dried and canned food: Feast on fresh-picked pineap­ple, pa­paya, mango, lo­cally grown veg­eta­bles and a fluffy, home­made egg strata cooked by their project’s lead sci­en­tist.

The crew of four men and two women were quar­an­tined on a vast plain be­low the sum­mit of the world’s largest ac­tive vol­cano in Jan­uary. All of their com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the out­side world were sub­jected to a 20-minute de­lay — the time it takes for sig­nals to get from Mars to Earth.

They are part of a study de­signed to bet­ter un­der­stand the psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fects that a long-term manned mis­sion to space would have on as­tro­nauts. The data they gath­ered will help NASA bet­ter pick crews that have cer­tain traits and a bet­ter chance of do­ing well dur­ing a two-to-three year Mars ex­pe­di­tion.

The space agency hopes to send hu­mans to the red planet by the 2030s.

The Hawaii team wore spe­cial­ly­de­signed sen­sors to gauge their moods and prox­im­ity to other peo­ple in the small, 1,200 square-foot (111-square me­ter) dome where they have lived.

The de­vices mon­i­tored, among other things, their voice lev­els and could sense if peo­ple were avoid­ing one an­other. It could also de­tect if they were next to each other and ar­gu­ing.

The crew played games de­signed to mea­sure their com­pat­i­bil­ity and stress lev­els. And when they got over­whelmed by be­ing in such close prox­im­ity to teach other, they could use vir­tual re­al­ity de­vices to es­cape to trop­i­cal beaches or other fa­mil­iar land­scapes.

The project’s lead in­ves­ti­ga­tor, Univer­sity of Hawaii pro­fes­sor Kim Bin­sted, said the crew mem­bers also kept writ­ten logs about how they were feel­ing.

“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.”


The project is the fifth in a se­ries of six NASA-funded stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Hawaii fa­cil­ity called the Hawaii Space Ex­plo­ration Ana­log and Sim­u­la­tion, or HI-SEAS. NASA has ded­i­cated about $2.5 mil­lion to the stud­ies at the fa­cil­ity.

“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.”

Crew mem­bers were mostly ex­cited and op­ti­mistic when they en­tered the fa­cil­ity in Jan­uary, but had some trep­i­da­tion.

“My big­gest fear was that we were go­ing to be that crew that turned out like Bio­sphere 2, which wasn’t a very pretty pic­ture,” said mis­sion com­man­der James Bev­ing­ton in Jan­uary.

Bio­sphere 2 was a 1990s ex­per­i­men­tal green­house-like habi­tat in Ari­zona that turned into a de­ba­cle. It housed dif­fer­ent ecosys­tems and a crew of four men and four women in an ef­fort to un­der­stand what would be needed for hu­mans to live on other plan­ets. The par­tic­i­pants were sup­posed to grow their own food and re­cy­cle their air in­side the sealed glass space.

But the ex­per­i­ment soon spi­raled out of con­trol, with the car­bon diox­ide level ris­ing dan­ger­ously and plants and an­i­mals dy­ing. The crew mem­bers grew hun­gry and squab­bled so badly dur­ing the two years they spent cooped up that by the time they emerged, some of them were not speak­ing to each other. Un­like the Bio­sphere 2, HI-SEAS is an opaque struc­ture, not a see-through one, and it is not air­tight.

The HI-SEAS crew was not con­fined to the dome but they were re­quired to wear space­suits and when­ever they went out­side the dome for ge­o­log­i­cal ex­pe­di­tions, map­ping stud­ies or other tasks.



Af­ter 20 years in space, NASA’s famed Cassini space­craft made an in­ten­tional death plunge into Saturn on Fri­day, end­ing a sto­ried mis­sion that sci­en­tists say taught us nearly ev­ery­thing we know about Saturn to­day and trans­formed the way we think about life else­where in the so­lar sys­tem.

Cassini, an in­ter­na­tional project that cost $3.9 bil­lion and in­cluded sci­en­tists from 27 nations, dis­in­te­grated as it dove into Saturn’s at­mos­phere at a speed of 75,000 miles per hour (120,700 kms per hour).

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