Sci­en­tists emerge from iso­lated dome on Hawaii vol­cano slope


Six sci­en­tists who were living un­der a dome on the slopes of a dor­mant Hawaii vol­cano for eight months to sim­u­late life on Mars have emerged from iso­la­tion.

The crew stepped out­side the dome that’s 2,400 me­ters up the slopes of Mauna Loa to feel fresh air on their skin Satur­day. It was the first time they left with­out don­ning a space suit.

The sci­en­tists are part of a hu­man per­for­mance study funded by NASA that tracked how they worked to­gether as a team. They have been mon­i­tored by sur­veil­lance cam­eras, body move­ment track­ers and elec­tronic sur­veys. Crew mem­ber Jo­ce­lyn Dunn said it was awe­some to feel the sen­sa­tion of wind on her skin.

“When we first walked out the door, it was scary not to have a suit on,” said Dunn, 27, a doc­toral can- di­date at Pur­due Uni­ver­sity. “We’ve been pre­tend­ing for so long.”

The dome’s vol­canic lo­ca­tion, si­lence and its sim­u­lated air­lock seal pro­vided an at­mos­phere sim­i­lar to space. Look­ing out the dome’s port­hole win­dows, all the sci­en­tists could see were lava fields and moun­tains, said Uni­ver­sity of Hawaii pro­fes­sor Kim Bin­sted, prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor for the study.

Track­ing the crew mem­bers’ emo­tions and per­for­mance in the iso­lated en­vi­ron­ment could help ground crews dur­ing fu­ture mis­sions to de­ter­mine if a crew mem­ber is be­com­ing de­pressed or if the team is hav­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion prob­lems.

“As­tro­nauts are very stoic peo­ple, very level-headed, and there’s a cer­tain hes­i­tancy to re­port prob­lems,” Bin­sted said. “So this is a way for peo­ple on the ground to de­tect co­he­sion-re­lated prob­lems be­fore they be­come a real is­sue.”

Spend­ing eight months in a con­fined space with six peo­ple had its chal­lenges, but crew mem­bers re­lieved stress do­ing team work­outs and yoga. They were able to use a so­lar-pow­ered tread­mill and sta­tion­ary bike, but only in the af­ter­noons on sunny days.

“When you’re hav­ing a good day its fine, it’s fun. You have friends around to share in the en­joy­ment of a good day,” Dunn said. “But if you have a bad day, it’s re­ally tough to be in a con­fined en­vi­ron­ment. You can’t get out and go for a walk ... it’s con­stantly wit­nessed by ev­ery­one.”

The hard­est part was be­ing far away from fam­ily and miss­ing events like her sis­ter’s wed­ding, for which she de­liv­ered a toast via video, Dunn said. “I’m glad I was able to be there in that way, but ... I just al­ways dreamed of be­ing there to help,” she said.

The first thing crew mem­bers did when they emerged from the dome was to chow down on foods they’ve been crav­ing — juicy wa­ter­melon, dev­iled eggs, peaches and crois­sants, which was a step up from the freeze dried chili they’d been eat­ing.

Next on Dunn’s list: go­ing for a swim. Showers in the iso­lated en­vi­ron­ment were limited to six min­utes per week, she said.

“To be able to just sub­merge my­self in wa­ter for as long as I want, to feel the sun, will be amaz­ing,” Dunn said. “I feel like a ghost.”


In this March 10 photo pro­vided by the Uni­ver­sity of Hawaii at Manoa HI-SEAS Hu­man Fac­tors Per­for­mance Study, Mission Com­man­der Martha Le­nio col­lects a soil sam­ple out­side of the dome in which six sci­en­tists lived an iso­lated ex­is­tence to sim­u­late life on a mission to Mars, on the bleak slopes of dor­mant vol­cano Mauna Loa near Hilo on the Big Is­land of Hawaii.

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