The planned manned mission to planet Mars may be far ahead but NASA already makes the necessary preparations.
On Friday, six individuals went into voluntary isolation in a cramped dome on the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii to simulate a manned mission to the red planet.
Living in the tiny dome for one year may seem like an easy mission but members of the team, which include a German physicist, a French astrobiologist, American pilot, soil scientist, architect and doctor/ journalist, would have to live with plenty of restrictions.
They would have to endure living literally cramped together in an abode known as Hawaii Space Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS), which measures 36-foot-wide and 20-foot-tall.
Although the volunteers each have a tiny room with enough space for a desk and a sleeping cot, they need to wear a spacesuit everytime they go outside. They do not also have access to comfort food and have to bear consuming foods that are no longer fresh such as powdered cheese and tuna.
The experiment is deemed important as NASA wants to know what conflicts can emerge when people live together with very limited privacy in such a very small space. The University of Hawaii said that the experiment focuses on the cohesion and performance of the crew, which could help identify the best way to travel to and from Mars, a journey that would take about three years.
The crew will be monitored using body movement trackers, cameras and electronic surveys among other methods as researchers gather data on social, emotional and cognitive factors that can affect team's performance.
It isn't the first time that this experiment was conducted. Two teams have already been sent to live in the dome. The first team stayed for four months and the other team stayed for eight months. The latest mission would be the longest.
"The longer each mission becomes, the better we can understand the risks of space travel," said HI-SEAS principal investigator Kim Binsted. "We hope that this upcoming mission will build on our current understanding of the social and psychological factors involved in long duration space exploration."
The eight-month mission was marked with interpersonal issues albeit the members managed to solve them and made sure that the mission would push through as planned.
Researchers acknowledged that interpersonal conflicts are expected to happen in such long term missions even with the best people.