Emerging from ‘Mars’: Scientists leave simulator on Hawaiian volcano after 8 months of isolation inside 36-foot-wide dome
- The crew of Nasa’s Hi-Seas project stepped outside their ‘Martian home’ on Saturday
- They had limited inside a 36ft-wide dome for eight months to simulate a mission to Mars
- During the mission the team were only able to leave while wearing a mockup space suit
- While inside they performed experiments and even experienced a communications delay – like a real mission
Published: 16:44 GMT, 14 June 2015 | Updated: 11:26 GMT, 15 June 2015
SIX scientists who have spent eight months living in a dome to simulate life on Mars have emerged from their isolation.
The crew stepped outside the dome, which is 8,000ft (2,400 metres) up the slopes of a dormant volcano called Mauna Loa, to feel fresh air on their skin on Saturday – the first time they had left without donning a spacesuit since October.
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 candidate 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.
The Hi-Seas (Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation) mission’s crews spend months 8,000 feet (2,440 metres) above sea level in a geodesic-dome habitat on the northern slope of the Mauna Loa volcano.
The volcano is a barren landscape, an abandoned quarry with little vegetation that’s as similar to Mars’ landscape as planet Earth can get.
The crew members live under Mars-like conditions. According to Hi-Seas ‘communication latencies and blackouts, in close quarters, under strict water-use rules, etc’ are part of the deal.
The food study was designed to test food preparation strategies for long-term space exploration.
Hi-Seas aims to address problems that may be encountered in future space missions by simulating exploration in areas of the world similar to space environments.
The aim mission, funded by Nasa’s Human Research Program, the University of Hawaii and Cornell University, is to learn about living sustainably on Mars.
The third mission started on 15 October 2014 and will last for eight months, while the final mission lasting a year begins in August 2015.
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,’ Dr 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.
The Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, or Hi-Seas, is a Nasa sponsored project to see how a crew would cope with living on Mars.
This was the third mission to be completed at the research station.
It involves crews of six living in a large dome in a remote region of Hawaii, Mauna Loa.
Here the crew is confined to a dome 36ft (11 metres) wide, with a living area of about 1,000 square feet (93 square metres).
The crew must spend the entirety of their trip inside the dome. They are only allowed to venture outside when wearing appropriate spacesuits, just like future astronauts on Mars will have to do.
To prevent the crew getting claustrophobic while inside the habitat, the dome has a large ceiling and is tiered in two floors. Regular exercise keeps the crew fit, with routines such as P90X often used.
And in the project, as would happen in real life on Mars, the delay that would be experienced by a crew on Mars was simulated by a 24-minute time delay to all communication back ‘home’.
The rooms, meanwhile, are six ‘pie-slice-shaped staterooms’ with a mattress, desk and stool. And to make sure they had sufficient access to supplies, the crew was given a 3D printer to make things they may have forgotten.
Power is supplied by solar power, while a hydrogen fuel cell provides back-up power in the case that levels run too low.
Earlier this year Nasa awarded $1.2 million (£775,000) to the Hi-Seas programme to continue its working studying the human factors that may affect a future crew on Mars.
The first two missions lasted four months, the next will take eight months and the last will take place over a year beginning in August 2015.
Throughout the studies, researchers evaluate how the crew copes in the habitat. It’s hoped the research will prove invaluable in an eventual mission to the red planet, which is expected to take place in the 2030s.
‘When you’re having a good day, it’s fine. It’s fun. You have friends around to share in the enjoyment of a good day,’ Ms 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, a step up from the freeze-dried chili they had 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.’
Each room has a bed, mattress and a stool. There is space under each bed for clothes to be stored. A 3D printer is also in the habitat to enable the crew to print new tools if they need to. On a future mission to Mars, items like a 3D printer will likely be invaluable as resupply missions will be scarce or non-existent.
Culled from Mail Online.com