What do you think was the first things astronauts did when returned after a yearlong experiment in isolation? No, they were not bombarded with questions from journalists, they were first of all given a chance for a quick snack of their first fresh fruits and vegetables. Yes, there are no berries on Mars!
Strictly speaking, the crew consisting of three women and three men did not actually go to Mars. They have spent the last 365 days in a dome-shaped habitat (known as the hab) on a red-brown lava plain 8,200 feet (2,500 m) up on the flank of Mauna Loa in Hawaii. They were absolutely isolated from any people and communicated with the outside world only by audio, video and Internet (the 20-second light lag between Earth and Mars was simulated so all signals passed with a 20-minute one-way time delay). The participants were also limited in food and water.
NASA hopes this experiment will give an opportunity to understand what it would be like to send astronauts to Mars.
Last August, the group (including an architect, astrobiologist and aerospace engineer) was organized to live in the nearly 1,500-square-foot dome. “I’m super-excited because it’s the first time we get to be outside without wearing a spacesuit, and everything is different,” said one participant.
The HI-SEAS semi-portable dome habitat has kitchen, laboratory, exercise area, and a simulated airlock. The energy is supplied by a 10kW solar array panel (with a backup hydrogen fuel cell generator). The hab is designed in such a way so that to keep interpersonal stress to a minimum. There are 13,000 cubic ft. (368 cu. m) of habitable volume and 1,200 ft. (111 sq. m) of floor space. Each participant has a small, private bedroom.
“A mission to Mars is going to be a complex system of systems,” said Kim Binsted, principal investigator of the project. “Some of those systems are going to be technological, and some of them are going to be human. And it’s just as bad if the human part of the system fails as if a rocket blows up.”
It is interesting that the crew sounds very optimistic about mission to Mars. All the participants say that they would be glad to travel to Mars themselves. They joke that next group must necessarily bring a lot of books to the mission.
“I can give you my personal impression, which is that a mission to Mars, in the close future, is realistic,” said HI-SEAS crewmember Cyprien Verseux.
Good news for enthusiasts who have always dreamt of space travel. The University of Hawaii has started new Manoa program and is currently accepting applications for next year’s eight-month mission.