As part of a year-long experiment by NASA to simulate life on Mars, starting Friday, six people have shut themselves up inside a small dome located on a dormant volcano in Hawaii.
The group consists of four Americans, a pilot, journalist-cum-doctor, soil scientist, and architect, along with a French astro-biologist and a German physicist.
The team consists of Sheyna Gifford, Tristan Bassingthwaighte, Carmel Johnston, Andrzej Stewart, Cyprien Verseux and Christiane Heinicke and they closed the door to their dome home at 3:00 p.m. local time Friday.
— University of Hawaii (@UHawaiiNews) August 29, 2015
To test whether man could survive life on Mars, the group will spend a whole year existing in a 36-foot-wide dome on the northern slope of the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii.
Each group member will, at least, have some privacy with a small room containing a cot and a desk. Their diet will consist of canned tuna and powdered cheese, simulating the types of food available if they were actually experiencing life on Mars in a habitat.
They will be allowed to go outside, but only if wearing a spacesuit, as they would on the red planet itself. If they decide at any stage to leave the experiment, they can.
Bassingthwaighte, the architect, said on his LinkedIn page that he will be “studying architectural methods for creating a more habitable environment and increasing our capability to live in the extreme environments of Earth and other worlds.”
According to the BBC, while some members of the group will be focusing on the scientific and technical challenges of the experiment, the isolation will also address the human element and potential problems that could arise living in such close quarters in a habitat on Mars.
Kim Binstead, a NASA investigator said, “I think one of the lessons is that you really can’t prevent interpersonal conflicts. It is going to happen over these long-duration missions, even with the very best people.”
According to France24, at present, astronauts spend up to six months aboard the International Space Station, but should they head to Mars, they would be facing a far longer trip. At the end of the voyage, astronauts would spend life on Mars in a cramped habitat with no fresh air.
Should NASA have the technology to send humans to Mars, they estimate that the mission would take between one and three years, making it imperative that these experiments are run to see if humans can co-exist in tight quarters for that duration of time.
The current isolation experiment in Hawaii will be the longest in U.S. history, and will give valuable insight into human interaction in close quarters and the possibility of life on Mars in this kind of environment.
— Space Future (@spacefuture) August 29, 2015
The program itself has been dubbed Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS). Various experiments will be run before heading to Mars itself, which NASA estimates could happen some time in the 2030s.
A previous HI-SEAS experiment involved studies relating to cooking on Mars, which was followed by a four-month, and then an eight-month co-habitation mission.
According to principal investigator Kim Binsted, NASA is to spend $1.2 million on the simulations and has recently received funding of an additional $1 million.
“That is very cheap for space research,” she told AFP. “It is really inexpensive compared to the cost of a space mission going wrong.”
Binsted did admit that during the eight-month experiment, conflicts did arise. While she wasn’t able to go into detail without breaching the confidentiality of the crew members involved, she did say they were able to work through the problems.
Binsted added that the first scientific results from the HI-SEAS life on Mars missions should be made public in approximately a year’s time.
“I couldn’t believe how much I had missed the flavors and textures of a juicy steak.”
Jocelyn Dunn, one of the crew members from the eight-month mission joked about how much she enjoyed eating steak and fresh vegetables again once the eight-month experiment ended.
[Image Source: NASA/Public Domain]