Crew emerges from Hawaii Mars sim­u­la­tor

Mauna Loa team of six spent months to­gether

Las Vegas Review-Journal (Sunday) - - SCIENCE - By Caleb Jones

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

Their first or­der of busi­ness after sub­sist­ing on mostly freeze-dried and canned food: feast on fresh­picked 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 was quar­an­tined on a vast plain be­low the sum­mit of the world’s largest ac­tive vol­cano in Jan­uary. All 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- to three-year Mars ex­pe­di­tion.

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

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 about $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,” mis­sion com­man­der James Bev­ing­ton said in Jan­uary.

Bio­sphere 2 was a 1990s ex­per­i­men­tal green­house-like habi­tat in Ari­zona that turned into a de­ba­cle. It housed dif­fer­ent ecosys­tems and a crew of four men and four women in an ef­fort to un­der­stand what would be needed for hu­mans to live on other plan­ets. The par­tic­i­pants were sup­posed to grow their own food and re­cy­cle their air in­side the sealed glass space.

But the ex­per­i­ment soon spi­raled out of con­trol, with the car­bon diox­ide level ris­ing dan­ger­ously and plants and an­i­mals dy­ing.

The crew mem­bers grew hun­gry and squab­bled so badly dur­ing the two years they spent cooped up that by the time they emerged, some of them were not speak­ing to each other. Un­like the Bio­sphere 2, HI-SEAS is an opaque struc­ture, not a see-through one, and it is not air­tight.

The HI-SEAS crew was not con­fined to the dome but they were re­quired to wear space­suits and 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, Mars-like land­scape, on a rocky, red plain be­low the sum­mit of Mauna Loa.

The univer­sity is al­ready start­ing to make plans for Mis­sion 6, the fi­nal study funded by the U.S. space agency.

The As­so­ci­ated Press

NASA-sup­ported crew mem­bers cart ma­te­ri­als next to the Hawaii Space Ex­plo­ration Ana­log and Sim­u­la­tion on Mauna Loa vol­cano, on Hawaii’s Big Is­land.

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