NASA HI-SEAS Isolation Experiment: Are We Ready To Live On Mars?

NASA HI-SEAS Program kicks off

The NASA Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, or HI-SEAS, project kicked off on Friday, as six individuals voluntarily began their year-long isolation from society. They will reside in the HI-SEAS dome, a 20-foot tall, 36-foot wide structure.

According to the AFP, this group is made up of a “French astrobiologist, a German physicist and four Americans: a pilot, an architect, a doctor/journalist, and a soil scientist.” Together, these volunteers will mark the longest “pseudo-Mars” mission carried out to date, with conditions that are as close to what they’d face on Mars as NASA can simulate.

The dome rests on the desolate northern slope of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano. The barren, rocky landscape is reminiscent of the red planet. To strengthen the similarity between Mars’ surface and their location, the HI-SEAS volunteers will be required to wear spacesuits whenever they leave the dome. After months of living in a cramped dome and seeing nothing but red-tinged rocks for months, they may actually start to feel as though they’re on another planet!

Some would look at the tiny space, uncomfortable proximity to other people, and poor food selection (canned tuna and powdered cheese) and ask themselves why these men and women volunteered to be in this position. Crew member Sheyna Gifford explained on a blog post on LivefromMars.life.

“[We’re] six people who want to change the world by making it possible for people to leave it at will.”

It’s hoped that this HI-SEAS group will help NASA learn what problems typically emerge in similar conditions, and if the individuals possess the capacity to put aside differences to work towards a common long-term goal — the colonization of Mars.

The very first HI-SEAS experiment dealt with cooking on Mars. Next came test groups which stayed in isolation for periods of four and eight months. Principal investigator Kim Binsted shared that NASA has spent $1.2 million the simulations so far. The agency was reportedly granted an additional million for two more experiments in the future.

Binsted told the AFP during a phone interview, “[The amount] is very cheap for space research.” What Kim insisted was more costly were the dangerous errors that could occur during a real mission. These problems would hopefully be prevented through extensive research and preparation.

NASA predicts that humans will begin a concrete journey to colonize Mars by the 2030s. While that may seem to be far away, in reality, it suggests a new chapter in human space exploration will begin within twenty years. That is within the lifetime of many people who never thought such an event would be humanly possible.

It will take anywhere from one to three years for volunteers to reach Mars and begin work on colonization. By comparison, astronauts usually spend six months in the International Space Station. This trip would mark the farthest that humans have ever traveled from Earth, and for the longest stretch of time.

Some wonder if we’re ready for life on Mars, or any other planets. As NASA HI-SEAS experiments continue, it seems that greater space exploration is something of an inevitability. Who knows? In the future, it may become an absolute necessity.

[Image Credit: NASA / JPL via Getty Images]