Tuesday, 17 July, 2018

6 scientists emerge from year-long Mars isolation experiment

Stacy Diaz | 30 August, 2016, 19:28

To prepare for a potential mission in the 2030s, researchers studied six people living like astronauts, in a dome on top of a volcano in Hawaii.

Dubbed "lavanauts", they were only allowed outside occasionally and had to wear spacesuits.

The volunteers were part of the fourth mission for HI-SEAS, or the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, conducted by the University of Hawaii.

The yearlong mission was meant to simulate life on Mars for the Red Planet's first colonists - as such, the worldwide team lived in close proximity and near isolation in a 13,570-cubic-foot dome without fresh air or fresh food.

This most recent mission began on August 29th, 2015, when the six-member crew entered the HI-SEAS habitat. The experiment is created to study the psychological challenges that real astronauts will experience when they travel to Mars. The principal investigator for the mission, Kim Binsted, said that the crew members were looking forward to jumping into the ocean and eating foods that were not available during their year in the dome. To make matters worse, the compound is situated within a rich landscape of rolling mountains, a challenge that proved "tempting" to crew member Tristan Bassingthwaigthe, a Montana native who was accustomed to spending time outdoors. The crew members shared their own account of the experience and how it would be important for the future of space travel.

During their time inside the habitat, the crew members kept the outside world updated on their exploits. [Image via hi-seas.org] Cyprien Verseux, the French astrobiologist, said that he believed this experiment showed that a future mission to Mars would succeed.

"It actually works. You can get water out of the ground, even if it seems dry at first glance".

HI-SEAS was the second-longest isolation experiment of its kind, after a Russian experiment that lasted 520 days.

Noting that there are obvious limits to conducting deep-space simulations on Earth, scientists said there are many aspects that can be suitably studied, principally the crew interactions and how people change how they see others after a long time in one another's presence. "I've been at it for 12 months straight, been on call for nearly 365.25 days".

The mission commander, Carmel Johnston, however, shared her concern over the lack of privacy during the year spent in the dome.

"It is kind of like having roommates that just are always there and you can never escape them, so I'm sure some people can imagine what that is like". The mission participants stepped out of the habitat at almost 9 am on Sunday.

A scientist walks outside in a 2013 "Mars" mission at Mauna Loa, which went for four months.