Six scientists who were tasked to simulate life on Mars by living under a dome in a dormant volcano in Hawaii have finally concluded their eight-month long "training camp."
On Saturday, the scientists, who took part in the Mars analog experiment by the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (Hi-SEAS), finally emerged from isolation 8,000 feet above sea level on Hawaii's Mauna Loa.
The volcano was chosen as the site for the study given its silence and terrain, which limited the scientists' view to only lava fields and mountains.
The scientists spent the last several months cooped together in conditions that were designed to simulate a mission to the Red Planet as researchers observe whether or not they could cope up living in close quarters with other individuals for a relatively long period of time.
"Astronauts are very stoic people, very level-headed, and there's a certain hesitancy to report problems," said principal investigator of the research Kim Binsted, from the University of Hawaii. "So this is a way for people on the ground to detect cohesion-related problems before they become a real issue."
Researchers also wanted to look at the psychological and physiological effects of isolation on the scientists so the six inhabitants froze eight months' worth of their urine and saliva samples for analysis.
The scientists lived together in a geodesic dome powered by solar energy and wore space suits whenever they go out from their living quarters in order to simulate working on the Martian surface. They lived in 1,300 square feet of living space, where sound travelled easily, and showers were restricted to eight minutes per week.
The simulation was designed to provide NASA with a better idea on selecting and supporting astronauts for future manned missions to Mars. Eight months is the expected travel time from Earth to the Red Planet.
Just like what could potentially happen during a mission on Mars, the team experienced bad weather that prevented them from using their solar batteries so they had to restrict their energy use and huddle up for warmth.
Martha Lenio, one of the six scientists said that if such incident happened during a Mars mission, the consequences could be far more serious.
"If we were really on Mars, that would be life or death," she said. "Here it's not like we would have died, so the same stress level [as on Mars] isn't there."