Emma Stoltzfus-Staff Writer
On Sep. 19 2017, six scientists and engineers stepped out of a dome on the slopes of Hawai’i after an eight-month simulation.
The Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) is run by the University of Hawai’I at Mānoa with Cornell University and funded by NASA. The purpose of the organization is to further research and information on human response to being in an enclosed space for long periods of time. The results of these experiments help the process for choosing individuals to go on lengthy space missions, such as the manned Mars missions that are theorized to take place sometime in the 2030s.
The six participants of HI-SEAS V are scientists and engineers in a variety of fields that hail from America and the United Kingdom. They each bring with them experiments and research to work on throughout their stay on “Mars.”
The hab is semi-self-sufficient and has a large solar panel array. Most of the food is stored, with the only fresh vegetables sourced from any experiments the participants conduct.
To preserve the illusion of being located on Mars, there is an instituted 20-minute delay in communication—such as what would be experienced when sending messages between Earth and Mars—which restricts communication to mostly text and some recorded video and audio.
In addition, the ‘astronauts’ can only exit the ‘hab’ when in bulky space-suit-like gear. Hiking over lava rock and red dirt in space-suits while conducting various geological experiments gives the impression of spacewalks on the red planet.
When not conducting experiments, conducting maintenance on the hab, doing team-building exercises, or going on ‘spacewalks,’ the participants spends their limited free time flying drones, watching movies together, and playing games.
As the goal of HI-SEAS V is to study astronaut selection techniques and team schematics, much of their time is spent together collaborating on projects and simply figuring out the logistics of living and working in a 1,200 square foot dome with five strangers.
Professor Luralyn Helming of Dordt’s Psychology department noted that humans generally aren’t isolated with others in such an extreme manner unless they were victims of a disaster.
The location of the dome, over 8000 ft above sea level, was chosen for its Mars-like qualities. Mauna Loa—or “Long Mountain”—is the world’s largest active volcano, stretching 60 miles long and 30 miles wide. It has only erupted twice since the ‘50s; the most recent eruption occurring in 1984.
Pictures of the Mauna Loa volcano—located on the Big Island of Hawai’i—with its red rocks, isolation, and limited plant-life, look to be images taken by a rover on Mars rather than a drone on an island in the Pacific.
Applicants to the simulation must be able to pass a Class 2 flight physical examination, have either science or engineering training and background, and proposed research to conduct over the course of the program.
“If I were to go to mars—which I would never go there—I would want to take samples of the ice and see if anything grows there” says Environmental Science and Art major Marti Sutton, if she had to do something in a simulated habitat however, she would want to do research on introductory species.
As the crew exited the dome for the first time in months, without a space-suit, they were greeted by family, friends, and fresh fruit.
Much can be learned from these simulations, and the information gathered on astronaut selection and team building will help facilitate the crew choices in future manned Mars missions.