NASA Begins Year-Long Isolation Experiment For Mars Mission

NASA is prepared to start its longest isolation experiment ever to get ready for a manned mission to Mars. Six strangers selected to live in a simulated dome on Mars might seem like the material for a reality show, but the struggle inside will be entirely for science.

No fresh air, no fresh food, and no privacy.

According to the Mirror, the experiment started on Friday in a 36 feet (11 meters) wide and 20 feet (6 meters) long dome on a volcanic slope in Mauna Loa in Hawaii. It will last for one year, if everything runs smoothly, making it the longest isolation experiment done for the Mars mission yet.

The BBC reports that NASA selected six people for the experiment: a French scientist, a German scientist, and four Americans -- a pilot, an architect, a journalist, and a soil scientist.

NASA has conducted other isolation experiments, including a four-month and eight-month trial.

Professor and HI-SEAS principal investigator Kim Binsted explained the need for longer missions.

"The longer each mission becomes, the better we can understand the risks of space travel. We hope that this upcoming mission will build on our current understanding of the social and psychological factors involved in long duration space exploration and give NASA solid data on how best to select and support a flight crew that will work cohesively as a team while in space."
The men and women will each have a small sleeping cot and a desk in the dome. They will also receive food packets similar to what the future astronauts will eat, which will include powdered cheese and canned tuna.

On the rare occasions the participants go outside, they will have to wear full space suits and the surrounding landscape has no plants or animals.

Given the extreme circumstances, Binsted explained conflict is inevitable.

"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."
Still, Jocelyn Dunn, who participated in a similar eight-month isolation experiment, said she now misses the intimate settings with her fellow scientists.
"We have a lovely and productive arrangement. There's a solace in certainty. I guess I got a taste of marriage. We have given each other loyalty and commitment, through the good and the bad, we belong to the crew. We give it our best and forget the rest."
[Image Credit: NASA/Wikimedia Commons]