A NASA experiment is about to analyze the feasibility of a long-term mission on Mars. 6 scientists have entered a remote habitat which will simulate living conditions on the Red Planet for a year.
The group consists of 3 women and three men who will stay in voluntary isolation in a dome located on the island of Hawaii. The crew commander is Carmel Johnson, a soil scientist who will analyze how food production can be achieved in artificial light. The other members of the team are: Cristianne Heinicke (physicist and engineer), Andrzej Stewart (chief engineering officer), Andrzej Stewart (chief engineering officer), Tistan Bassingthwaighte (architect), Sheyna Gifford (health science officer and journalist) and Cyprien Verseux (biologist). Mr. Bassingthwaighte will investigate how to create a life-sustaining environment in an extreme climate, while Mr. Verseux will attempt to use living organisms to transform Mars’ resources into products fit for consumption.
A small bedroom containing a desk and a sleeping cot will be assigned to each crew mate. There will also be common spaces which include a kitchen, a dining area, a gym, a lab and a bathroom. These are all located in a 2-story geodesic dome, with a diameter of 36 feet. There is a also 160-square foot workshop attached to the dome, made from a converted shipping container. The entire structure is perched on a slope 8,000 feet above sea level. Limited access to the Internet will be provided, water supply will also be rationed, and each member will have to wear a spacesuit when exiting the habitat. Meals will include basic food items like powdered cheese and canned tuna.
The experiment’s aim is to test technologies and to identify potential risks associated with undertaking space exploration for lengthy periods of time. Researchers will be able to establish what fluid and food intake is required for a year, how much scientific work can be done and how the crew can cope with the pressures of everyday life. It is estimated that if a human-powered spacecraft were travelling To Mars and back, it would take 3 years to complete the journey.
This current simulation is the most ambitious of its kind so far, due to its duration and complexity. Previous missions of this type, called HI-SEAS (Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation), have been conducted with mixed results, the latest having being finalized in June. Those who took part in prior experiments stayed in their habitat for 4 and 8 months. During these periods, there were arguments among the crew, but principal investigator Kim Binsted explains that such interpersonal conflicts are predictable when being isolated for so long, even `with the very best people’.
HI-SEAS trials are important precisely in order to identify the social and psychological effects of long-term space-travelling, aside from the technical aspects that must be taken into account when planning such an exciting journey.
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