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A crew of six enter a geodesic dome to find out what it's like to live on Mars

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With manned missions to Mars on the horizon, researchers try to make long-term space travel more manageable.

An international crew of six will enter a geodesic dome atop Hawaii’s Mauna Loa on Thursday to begin an eight-month experiment on isolation and confinement. The Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) Mission V is the fifth such NASA-funded research experiment.

HI-SEAS is intended to help reveal the requirements for individuals and teams during long-term space exploration, such as missions to Mars. As such, crew members are expected to abandon many of their usual creature comforts. During the duration of the experiment they will breathe recycled air, eat space food, and — if they want to leave their 13,570-cubic-foot dome — they’ll have to don a spacesuit.

The eight-month mission will demand interpersonal problem solving and team building, as the crew will live in close quarters with limited privacy, conducting various research studies. A mission control and research team will keep an eye on the crew during the experiment, including monitoring face-to-face interaction between using sociometric badges worn by crew members.

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But the mission is about more than just studying human interactions. The crew will perform experiments on life systems management and geological fieldwork atop Mauna Loa to simulated the exploration tasks of astronauts on Mars.

“Since 2012, HI-SEAS has been contributing to NASA’s plans for long-duration space exploration,” Kim Binstead, HI-SEAS principal investigator, said in a statement. “We are an international collaboration of crew, researchers and mission support, and I’m proud of the part we play in helping reduce the barriers to a human journey to Mars.”

The latest HI-SEAS experiment ended in August when a crew of six exited the geodesic dome after a year, which was the second-longest isolation experiment of its kind. A 2010 Russian experiment lasted 520 days.