Mars re­search sub­jects to leave dome af­ter months of iso­la­tion

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Caleb Jones

HONOLULU — Af­ter eight months of liv­ing in iso­la­tion on a re­mote Hawaii volcano, six NASAbacked re­search sub­jects will emerge from their Mars-like habi­tat on Sun­day and re­turn to civ­i­liza­tion.

Their first or­der of busi­ness af­ter sub­sist­ing on 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-tothree-year Mars ex­pe­di­tion.

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

The Hawaii team wore spe­cially de­signed sen­sors to gauge their moods and prox­im­ity to oth­ers in the 1,200-square-foot 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.

When they got over­whelmed by be­ing in such prox­im­ity, 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 $2.5 mil­lion to the stud­ies at the fa­cil­ity.

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 green­house­like habi­tat in Ari­zona that turned into a de­ba­cle.

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

Other Mars sim­u­la­tion projects ex­ist around the world, but Hawaii re­searchers say one of the chief ad­van­tages of their project is the area’s rugged, Mars­like land­scape, on a rocky, red plain be­low the sum­mit of Mauna Loa, the world’s largest ac­tive volcano.


The HI-SEAS crew had to wear space­suits when­ever they went out­side the dome.

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