A team of six scientists is poised to enter an isolated geodesic dome on a remote volcano in Hawaii and spend the next eight months living there.
This is done as part of a human behavior study that could assist in long-term space exploration, including for sending astronauts to a planned Mars voyage.
The scientists — made up of two women and four men — entered their simulated space home last Thursday on Mauna Loa on Big Island. The home, about 1,200 square feet or equivalent to a humble two-bedroom house in size, includes a kitchen, bathroom, and laboratory.
Meet The Team
"We're hoping to figure out how best to select individual astronauts, how to compose a crew and how to support that crew on long-duration space missions," said principal investigator and University of Hawaii professor Kim Binstead in an AP report.
For the mission, it could be a long journey to Mars amid assurances of faster rocket trips or a protracted stay on the planet’s surface.
“In either case, astronaut crews far from Earth will rely on a social resilience and team cohesion previously untested in deep space,” the summary stated.
For the eight-month period, the group will have no physical contact with the outside world and will contend with a 20-minute lag in communications, which is how long it would take for an email to get from Mars to Earth. From there they will be assessed for the psychological issues stemming from the isolation and confined living conditions.
This research is poised to help in NASA’s plan to send humans to an asteroid around the 2020s and proceed to its long-haul mission to Mars around the 2030s, a timeline still deemed realistic unless the U.S. space agency is told to “do something different” by the incoming Trump administration, Binstead added.
The team is composed of engineers, a doctoral student, a computer scientist, and a biomedical expert. They were chosen from 700 aspirants who underwent background checks, cognitive and personality testing, and extensive interviews.
James Bevington, a freelance space researcher, leads the crew as its mission commander. His biggest fear at the beginning, according to him, was the possibility of turning out the same as Biosphere 2, a greenhouse-like experimental Arizona habitat in the 1990s that also housed a small crew to simulate life on other planetary bodies.
The experiment was quickly left in limbo, as the supposedly natural habitat failed to keep safe carbon dioxide levels, and the crew experienced discontent.
Why A Hawaii Volcano?
The dome, known as Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, or HI-SEAS, is operated by the University of Hawaii and will receive more than $2 million from NASA for various studies.
The area is selected for its accessibility, ideal weather, and Mars-like geography, marked by a rocky and red plan below the world’s largest active volcano’s summit.
Two other long-term stays in the dome were funded by NASA, focusing on food requirements and crew cohesion.
Around their necks, the scientists will wear devices that will measure mood and proximity to the other members and use virtual reality tools for simulating comfortable, familiar environments they would not be able to access while on Mars.
They will be dressed in space suits whenever leaving the compound as they perform tasks such as geological as well as mapping research.
For food, they will get freeze-dried items with a long shelf life, as well as canned goods, light snacks, and even Hawaii favorites. To keep them isolated, there will be a number of resupply deliveries via robots.