Today in Hawaii, three men and three women will step inside a thousand-square-foot dome on the north side of the Mauna Loa volcano. For the next eight months, they will be cut off from the outside world. The team will simulate life at a space station on Mars as part of a project called HI-SEAS, sponsored by NASA and led by the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
The National Geographic published an interview with the mission commander, who will be inside the dome, this morning. Martha Lenio, 34, of Canada, is the mission's commander and the first woman to lead a Mars simulation. She's the third woman in NASA's history to lead a mission of any kind. National Geographic spoke to her as she prepared to step into the dome for her eight month test.
Lenio notes that the main goal of the mission is to study how living on Mars may affect people psychologically.
"The real goal for NASA is to do a psychology study on team cohesiveness, our attitudes, and how we stick together over the course of a long-duration, somewhat isolated, eight-month mission."Lenio says that they are trying to keep the experience as close to what living on Mars would be life in size of the dome, communication ability and food. Lenio notes that the dome is a meager 1,000 square feet and will house all six mission members. Inside the dome they will not have phone access and will only be able to communicate via email. However, even email communication will not be instant. All incoming and outgoing emails will be delayed by 20 minutes, "because that's how long it takes for a message to get from Earth to Mars and vice versa."
Access to essential living items such as food and water will also be limited. Lenio notes that water consumption must be significantly reduced.
"Everyone is allotted eight liters of water a day. That eight liters per day is everything you can drink, everything for cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and showering. That works out to be eight minutes of shower time a week. We have composting toilets, which reduces our water use."Though the psychological study is the primary goal of the mission, a secondary food study is also being performed by Cornell. The study will be looking at a common problem with space missions in regards to the taste of food. Lenio says, "one of the things that happens on a long-duration space mission is that you get food fatigue and everything starts to taste the same, so they're trying to figure out what foods we won't get sick of. So we have a really extensive spice kit."
A second woman who will enter the dome today, Jocelyn Dunn from Florida, spoke with the Lafayette Journal and Courier about the training required leading up to this mission. Dunn said that she took part in a training in September at the National Outdoor Leadership School in Wyoming. The training was part of the selection process. After backpacking through the Wind River Mountain Range, eating shelf-stable foods and hiking up to seven miles a day, the team of eight was whittled down to the current six-person crew. Although eating shelf-stable foods and having only eight minutes a week to shower makes her nervous, Dunn considers this experience a dream come true.
"Every morning when I wake up it feels like Christmas because I'm counting down (the days) until I get to live there in the dome and experience this unique environment. I'm really excited to work with such talented and positive people."The mission crew will be unable to leave the dome except when they venture out in space suits to survey and map the volcanic terrain as if they were exploring Mars.
"It's very similar — red, rocky, lava. (We'll) also (be) maintaining the habitat. It's basically self-sufficient. They do bring us water and food supplies periodically, but we'll have our own energy systems. We have to maintain that. So it's more than normal housekeeping."Another interesting study being performed is regards to getting people to Mars. NASA is considering deep sleep stasis for Mars missions.
Would you be able to live in a 1,000 square foot dome for eight months with five other people?