Six people shut themselves inside a dome for a year in Hawaii, in the longest US isolation experiment aimed at helping NASA prepare for a pioneering journey to Mars. The crew includes a French astro-biologist, a German physicist and four Americans a pilot, an architect, a doctor/journalist and a soil scientist.
The men and women have their own small rooms, with space for a sleeping cot and desk, and will spend their days eating food like powdered cheese and canned tuna, only going outside if dressed in a spacesuit, and having limited access to the Internet. Any astronauts that go to Mars are facing a trip that would last far longer than the six months that humans typically spend at the orbiting International Space Station (ISS).
With all that time spent in a cramped space without access to fresh air, food, or privacy, conflicts are certain to occur. The US space agency is studying how these scenarios play out on Earth in a program called Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) before pressing on toward Mars, which NASA hopes to reach sometime in the 2030s.
NASA’s current technology can send a robotic mission to the Red Planet in eight months, and the space agency estimates that a human mission would take between one and three years. The first HI-SEAS experiment involved studies about cooking on Mars and was followed by a four-month and an eight-month co-habitation mission. NASA is spending $1.2 million on these simulations and has just received funding of another $1 million for three more in the coming years, according to principal investigator Kim Binsted.
“That is very cheap for space research,” she told AFP by phone from Hawaii. “It is really inexpensive compared to the cost of a space mission going wrong.” Other simulation experiments have taken place under the ocean off the Florida coast, in Antarctica and in Russia, where a 520-day Mars experiment was carried out in 2011.