In its lat­est sim­u­la­tion ex­per­i­ment, NASA is try­ing to fig­ure out if we’d stay sane while liv­ing on Mars

Marie Claire (South Africa) - - BULLETIN -

‘I hate space,’ San­dra Bul­lock’s char­ac­ter even­tu­ally opines af­ter two gru­elling hours of free-float­ing as­tro­naut hell in Grav­ity. By that point you can only agree: space looks like a psy­cho­log­i­cal bat­tle­ground

ex­traor­di­naire, and def­i­nitely a place where you’re li­able to go bonkers. Among NASA’s many in­ves­ti­ga­tions into a manned mis­sion to Mars is the cru­cial ques­tion of whether the selected as­tro­nauts would be able to han­dle the mis­sion – men­tally and emo­tion­ally. To test this, a sim­u­la­tion is cur­rently un­der­way on the Hawai­ian is­land of Mauna Loa, in­volv­ing three men and three women liv­ing in a 92m2 dome for four months.

It sounds like an in­ter­ga­lac­tic sea­son of re­al­ity TV se­ries Big Brother, and it may well have been one: ‘You wouldn’t be­lieve the num­ber of pro­duc­ers who called us,’ one of the project re­searchers, Kim Bin­sted, told the Hawaii Tri­bune-Herald. ‘For­tu­nately, eth­i­cally we’re not al­lowed to sub­ject our crew to that kind of thing.’

The six par­tic­i­pants are only per­mit­ted to shower for eight min­utes a week, can only com­mu­ni­cate with the out­side world via e-mail (with a 20-minute de­lay, as would be the case from Mars), and can only leave the dome in sti­fling in­su­lated uni­forms. They’re also given tasks that mimic the imag­ined re­quire­ments of the mis­sion, such as try­ing to grow plants in Mars-like con­di­tions and mak­ing tools from scratch. Re­searchers are watch­ing the par­tic­i­pants’ moods, cog­ni­tive skills and in­tra-group dy­nam­ics. ‘ We’re go­ing to stress them,’ Bin­sted said. ‘That’s the na­ture of the study.’

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