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Scientists emerge from eight month Mars simulation

Six scientists have emerged from a dome on a remote Hawaiian volcano after eight months in isolation, as part of NASA-backed research to simulate the Martian environment.

The crew, who has been cooped up since January, stepped out on Sunday greeted by fresh-picked tropical fruits and egg strata – after most of a year subsisting on freeze-dried food and the vegetables they were able to grow.

The four men and two women are part of a study designed to better understand the psychological impacts a long-term space mission would have on astronauts.

 

Six scientists have emerged from a dome on a remote Hawaiian volcano after eight months in isolation, as part of NASA-backed research to simulate the Martian environment. The crew arrived to the dome in January

THE HI-SEAS MISSION

The Hi-Seas (Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation) mission’s crews spend months 8,500 feet above sea level in a geodesic-dome habitat on the northern slope of the Mauna Loa volcano.

The volcano is a barren landscape, an abandoned quarry with little vegetation that’s as similar to Mars’ landscape as planet Earth can get.

The crew members live under Mars-like conditions. According to Hi-Seas ‘communication latencies and blackouts, in close quarters, under strict water-use rules, etc’ are part of the deal.

The food study was designed to test food preparation strategies for long-term space exploration.

Hi-Seas aims to address problems that may be encountered in future space missions by simulating exploration in areas of the world similar to space environments.

The aim of the mission, funded by Nasa’s Human Research Program, the University of Hawaii and Cornell University, is to learn about living sustainably on Mars. 

‘It’s really gratifying to know that the knowledge gained here from our mission and the other missions that HI-SEAS has done will contribute to the future exploration of Mars and the future exploration of Space in general,’ science officer Samuel Paylor said Sunday.

The data they produced will help NASA select individuals and groups with the right mix of traits to best cope with the stress, isolation and danger of a two-to-three year trip to Mars.

The U.S. space agency hopes to send humans to the red planet by the 2030s.

The crew was quarantined for eight months on a vast plain below the summit of the Big Island’s Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano.

After finishing their stint, they feasted on pineapple, mango and papaya.

During the eight months in isolation, mission biology specialist Joshua Ehrlich grew fresh vegetables.

‘Carrots, peppers, pak choy. Chinese cabbage, mustard greens, radishes, tomatoes, potatoes tons of parsley and oregano, I mean it was phenomenal, just that delicious fresh taste from home really was good,’ Ehrlich said.

All of their communications with the outside world were subjected to a 20-minute delay – the time it takes for signals to get from Mars to Earth. 

The crew played games designed to measure their compatibility and stress levels and maintained logs about how they were feeling. They are pictured above as they emerge from their months-long isolation

The crew played games designed to measure their compatibility and stress levels and maintained logs about how they were feeling. They are pictured above as they emerge from their months-long isolation

The crew was tasked with conducting geological surveys, mapping studies and maintaining their self-sufficient habitat as if they were actually living on Mars.

The team’s information technology specialist, Laura Lark, thinks a manned voyage to Mars is a reasonable goal for NASA. 

The project is the fifth in a series of six NASA-funded studies at the University of Hawaii facility called the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, or HI-SEAS. 

NASA has dedicated about $2.5 million for research at the facility.

The crew (pictured) have been helping Nasa determine the requirements for sending astronauts on long missions

The crew (pictured) have been helping Nasa determine the requirements for sending astronauts on long missions

The four men and two women are part of a study designed to better understand the psychological impacts a long-term space mission would have on astronauts

The four men and two women are part of a study designed to better understand the psychological impacts a long-term space mission would have on astronauts

‘There are certainly human factors to be figured out, that’s part of what HI-SEAS is for,’ Lark said in a video message recorded within the dome. 

‘But I think that overcoming those challenges is just a matter of effort. 

‘We are absolutely capable of it.’

The crew played games designed to measure their compatibility and stress levels and maintained logs about how they were feeling.

To gauge their moods they also wore specially-designed sensors that measured voice levels and proximity to other people in the, 1,200 square-foot (111-square meter) living space.

 The crew, who has been cooped up since January, stepped out on Sunday greeted by fresh-picked tropical fruits and egg strata ¿ after most of a year subsisting on freeze-dried food and the vegetables they were able to grow

 The crew, who has been cooped up since January, stepped out on Sunday greeted by fresh-picked tropical fruits and egg strata – after most of a year subsisting on freeze-dried food and the vegetables they were able to grow

The crew was tasked with conducting geological surveys, mapping studies and maintaining their self-sufficient habitat as if they were actually living on Mars

The crew was tasked with conducting geological surveys, mapping studies and maintaining their self-sufficient habitat as if they were actually living on Mars

The devices could sense if people were avoiding one another, or if they were ‘toe-to-toe’ in an argument, said the project’s lead investigator, University of Hawaii professor Kim Binsted.

‘We’ve learned, for one thing, that conflict, even in the best of teams, is going to arise,’ Binsted said. 

‘So what’s really important is to have a crew that, both as individuals and a group, is really resilient, is able to look at that conflict and come back from it.’

The study also tested ways to help the crew cope with stress. 

Pictured, Laura Lark, shows bread inside the HI-SEAS dome at the Mauna Loa volcano

Pictured, Laura Lark, shows bread inside the HI-SEAS dome at the Mauna Loa volcano

The crew was quarantined for eight months on a vast plain below the summit of the Big Island's Mauna Loa, the world's largest active volcano

The crew was quarantined for eight months on a vast plain below the summit of the Big Island’s Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano

When they became overwhelmed, they could use virtual reality devices to take them away to a tropical beach or other familiar landscapes.

Other Mars simulation projects exist around the world, but Hawaii researchers say one of the chief advantages of their project is the area’s rugged, Mars-like landscape, on a rocky, red plain below the summit of Mauna Loa.

The crew’s vinyl-covered shelter is about the size of a small two-bedroom home, has small sleeping quarters for each member plus a kitchen, laboratory and bathroom. The group shared one shower and has two composting toilets. 

Samuel Payler (pictured) was one of the six researchers who took part in the assignment in Hawaii 

Samuel Payler (pictured) was one of the six researchers who took part in the assignment in Hawaii 

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