Six scientists emerged from a dome on a Mauna Loa mountain without wearing their spacesuits yesterday, ending the longest-ever NASA-sponsored isolation experiment.
The yearlong mission was meant to simulate life on Mars for the Red Planet’s first colonists — as such, the international team lived in close proximity and near isolation in a 13,570-cubic-foot dome without fresh air or fresh food. The researchers had limited internet access and privacy, with only a small room to call their own. They were only permitted to leave the habitat while wearing spacesuits.
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“It is kind of like having roommates that just are always there and you can never escape them so I’m sure some people can imagine what that is like and if you can’t then just imagine never being able to get away from anybody,” mission commander Carmel Johnston told the BBC.
Though the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) was no walk in the park, some of the team members voiced confidence in the success of an actual Mars mission based on their ability to pull through the past year.
“I can give you my personal impression which is that a mission to Mars in the close future is realistic. I think the technological and psychological obstacles can be overcome,” crew member and astrobiologist, Cyprien Verseux, told the Associated Press.
Despite Mauna Loa’s barren environment, the crew successfully recovered water from the mountain’s arid climate. “Showing that it works, you can actually get water from the ground that is seemingly dry,” said crew member and physicist Christiane Heinicke. “It would work on Mars and the implication is that you would be able to get water on Mars from this little greenhouse construct.”
However, mining for water wasn’t the only obstacle. HI-SEAS was also designed to challenge the scientists with an uncomfortable social situation, to study how the group would address and avoid personal conflicts. From here, NASA hopes to select competent and compatible astronauts in the future.
“The [University of Hawaii] research going on up here is just super vital when it comes to picking crews, figuring out how people are going to actually work on different kinds of missions, and sort of the human factor element of space travel, colonization, whatever it is you are actually looking at,” said the crew’s architect, Tristan Bassingthwaighte.
HI-SEAS was the second-longest isolation experiment of its kind, after a Russian experiment that lasted 520 days.
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