1 year and count­ing: Mars iso­la­tion experiment be­gins

The China Post - - LIFE - BY KERRY SHERI­DAN

Six peo­ple shut them­selves in­side a dome for a year in Hawaii on Fri­day, in the long­est U.S. iso­la­tion experiment aimed at help­ing NASA pre­pare for a pi­o­neer­ing jour­ney to Mars.

The crew in­cludes a French as­tro­bi­ol­o­gist, a Ger­man physi­cist and four Amer­i­cans — a pi­lot, an ar­chi­tect, a doc­tor/jour­nal­ist and a soil sci­en­tist.

They are based on a bar­ren, north­ern slope of Mauna Loa, liv­ing in­side a dome that is 11 me­ters in di­am­e­ter and 6 me­ters tall.

In a place with no an­i­mals and lit­tle veg­e­ta­tion around, they closed them­selves in at 3:00 p.m. Hawaii time (0100 GMT Satur­day), mark­ing the of­fi­cial start to the 12-month mis­sion.

The men and women have their own small rooms, with space for a sleep­ing cot and desk, and will spend their days eat­ing food like pow­dered cheese and canned tuna, only go­ing out­side if dressed in a space­suit, and hav­ing lim­ited ac­cess to the In­ter­net.

So what kind of per­son wants to spend a year this way?

Crew mem­ber Sheyna Gif­ford de­scribed the team as “six peo­ple who want to change the world by mak­ing it pos­si­ble for peo­ple to leave it at will,” she wrote on her blog, Live­fromMars.life.

Ar­chi­tect Tris­tan Bass­ingth­waighte said he will be “study­ing ar­chi­tec­tural meth­ods for cre­at­ing a more hab­it­able en­vi­ron­ment and in­creas­ing our ca­pa­bil­ity to live in the ex­treme en­vi­ron­ments of Earth and other worlds,” ac­cord­ing to his LinkedIn page.

“Hop­ing to learn a lot!” he added.

Pi­o­neer Trou­bles

Any astro­nauts that go to Mars are fac­ing a trip that would last far longer than the six months that hu­mans typ­i­cally spend on the or­bit­ing In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion.

NASA’s cur­rent tech­nol­ogy can send a ro­botic mis­sion to the Red Planet in eight months, and the space agency es­ti­mates that a hu­man mis­sion would take be­tween one and three years.

With all that time spent in a cramped space with­out ac­cess to fresh air, food, or pri­vacy, con­flicts are cer­tain to oc­cur.

The U.S. space agency is study­ing how these sce­nar­ios play out on Earth — in a pro­gram called Hawaii Space Ex­plo­ration Ana­log and Sim­u­la­tion (HI-SEAS) — be­fore press­ing on to­ward Mars, which NASA hopes to reach some­time in the 2030s.

The first HI-SEAS experiment in­volved stud­ies about cook­ing on Mars and was fol­lowed by a four­month and an eight-month co­hab­i­ta­tion mis­sion.

NASA is spend­ing US$1.2 mil­lion on these sim­u­la­tions and has just re­ceived fund­ing of another US$1 mil­lion for three more in the com­ing years, ac­cord­ing to prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor Kim Bin­sted.

“That is very cheap for space re­search,” she told AFP by phone from Hawaii.

“It is re­ally in­ex­pen­sive com­pared to the cost of a space mis­sion go­ing wrong.”

Other sim­u­la­tion ex­per­i­ments have taken place un­der the ocean off the Florida coast, in Antarc­tica and in Rus­sia, where a 520-day Mars experiment was car­ried out in 2011.

Con­flict Res­o­lu­tion

Bin­sted said that dur­ing the eight-month co-habi­ta­tion mis­sion, which ended ear­lier this year, con­flicts did arise.

She said she could not go into de­tail about the na­ture of them with­out breach­ing con­fi­den­tial­ity of the crew.

But the crew was able to work through their prob­lems, she said.

“I think one of the lessons is that you re­ally can’t pre­vent in­ter­per­sonal con­flicts. It is go­ing to hap­pen over these long-du­ra­tion mis­sions, even with the very best peo­ple,” she told AFP.

“But what you can do is help peo­ple be re­silient so they re­spond well to the prob­lems and can re­solve them and con­tinue to per­form well as a team.”

Bin­sted said the first sci­en­tific re­sults from the mis­sions should be made public about a year from now.

Jocelyn Dunn, a crew mem­ber from the pre­vi­ous mis­sion, said she came to love the in­side jokes among the crew, do­ing daily work­outs, and learn­ing to cook things like bagels and pizza dough with the in­gre­di­ents on hand.

“I guess I got a taste of mar­riage, al­beit a hexagon of re­la­tion- ships rather than a dyad,” she wrote on her blog.

Then, just days af­ter the mis­sion ended in mid-June, she de­scribed the joy of be­ing “on Earth” again, eat­ing fresh veg­eta­bles, us­ing a knife to cut meat, swimming, and drink­ing soda and cham­pagne.

“I couldn’t be­lieve how much I had missed the fla­vors and tex­tures of a juicy steak.”

AFP/Univer­sity of Hawaii at Manoa/Zak Wil­son/Neil Scheibel­hut

(Top) This Oct. 13, 2014 im­age cour­tesy of the Univer­sity of Hawaii at Manoa shows, left to right, Brian Shiro, HI-SEAS mis­sion sup­port, HI-SEAS mis­sion crew mem­bers So­phie Milam, Jo­ceyln Dunn, Zak Wil­son, Allen Mirkady­rov, HI-SEAS com­man­der Martha Le­nio, and Neil Scheibel­hut. (Above) This March 10 im­age cour­tesy of the Univer­sity of Hawaii at Manoa shows the ex­te­rior of the HI-SEAS habi­tat on the north­ern slope of Mauna Loa in Hawaii.

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