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