To prepare for a potential mission in the 2030s, researchers studied six people living like astronauts in a dome on top of a volcano in Hawaii. The goal was to reveal what it would be like to send astronauts to Mars and to study the effects on the human mind.
Correspondent Errol Barnett said the researchers were actually been spending all their time in a solar-powered dome on the side of a volcano in Hawaii, part of the NASA-funded program HI-SEAS. It’s the fourth and longest time HI-SEAS has performed this type of mission.
Farah Empalmado, a freshman studying elementary education from the Philippines, said she could not imagine being isolated in a dome for more than six months. “When I served a mission, it was so hard to stay indoors with no entertainment. I cannot imagine not leaving the dome for a year,” said Empalmado.
Last August, a team consisting of a French astro-biologist, a German physicist and four Americans - a pilot, an architect, a journalist and a soil scientist - came from across the globe to live in the nearly 1,500 square foot dome, according to BBC.
Experts estimate that a human mission to the red planet could take between one and three years. “I can give you my personal impression, which is that a mission to Mars, in the close future, is realistic,” said Cyprien Verseux, HI-SEAS crewmember.
“A mission to Mars is going to be a complex system of systems,” said Kim Binsted, principal investigator of the project. “Some of those systems are going to be technological, and some of them are going to be human. And it’s just as bad if the human part of the system fails as if a rocket blows up.”
The HI-SEAS semi-portable dome habitat features living quarters for six, including a kitchen, laboratory, exercise area, and a simulated airlock. A 10,000 Watt solar array panel, with a backup hydrogen fuel cell generator, supplies energy.
Over the next 12 months, they had limited food and water and used a computer with at least a 20-minute delay to communicate with the outside world. An excited crowd gathered Sunday in Hawaii to welcome a six-person crew back to “Earth” after they spent a year living in a simulated Mars.
Carmel Johnston, mission commander, said the lack of privacy over the past year had been difficult. "It is kind of like having roommates that just are always there and you can never escape them so I'm sure some people can imagine what that is like and if you can't then just imagine never being able to get away from anybody," she said.
Amberlynn Kazuo, a biomedical freshman from Idaho, said she finds it “cool how there is so much preparation to the trip and how dedicated others are.” Although Kazuo admitted to not having much interest in space, she said she loves hearing experiments done by NASA. “We know so much about the universe because of the studies they do, and I would love to hear about the research they’ve done about this experiment,” said Kazuo.
Tristan Bassingthwaighte, a doctor of architecture at the University of Hawaii, praised research done into the human element of space travel. “The research going on up here is just super vital when it comes to picking crews, figuring out how people are going to actually work on different kinds of missions, and sort of the human factor’s element of space travel; colonization,” he said.
Gayla Prakash, a hospitality and tourism sophomore from Fiji, was excited to hear the potential trip to go to Mars. “Space is so interesting and just like how when men travelled to the moon, to go to Mars would be another accomplishment,” said Prakash.