Three men and three women just locked themselves inside a dome on a remote Hawaiian island, all to prep for a mission to Mars.
The Hawai'i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) crew will consist of a pilot, an architect, a journalist, and a soil scientist (all Americans) to go along with a German physicist and a French astrobiologist. They will be stuck inside the 36-foot-wide and 20-foot-high solar-powered dome for a year, save a few "spacewalks" that must be conducted while wearing their spacesuits.
Set in the rough terrain of Hawaii's Mauna Loa volcano, the dome is meant to simulate Mars as closely as possible here on Earth.
"The longer each mission becomes, the better we can understand the risks of space travel," Kim Binsted, HI-SEAS principal investigator, told the University of Hawai'i. "We hope that this upcoming mission will build on our current understanding of the social and psychological factors involved in long-duration space exploration and give NASA solid data on how best to select and support a flight crew that will work cohesively as a team while in space."
That's just the beginning. The dome has many features that help simulate Mars.
In fact, this is the fourth and longest such mission, which gives them some idea about what to expect.
For one, the crew will be monitored by a research team via cameras inside the habitat. "Body-movement trackers" will help them study social and emotional reactions so they can figure out how a crew on Mars might react to isolation, cramped quarters and being forced to work with certain people.
"I think it's taken for granted that we'll all miss our friends and family," crew member Sheyna Gifford said, standing outside the dome. "But just this: the wind in your face, the sun, that I'll miss a lot."
The dome is equipped with a year's worth of food and water, a lab, exercise and dining rooms, one bathroom downstairs and a second bathroom upstairs.
But this is the only view.
There is some good news, though: the crew will have Internet connection. Unfortunately, it'll be on a 20-minute delay, just like the Internet when they are on Mars. In fact, three crew members (Sheyna Gifford, Andrzej Stewart, and Cyprien Verseux) will be blogging during their time inside the dome. While they're blogging, Carmel Johnson will be strumming on the ukulele she bought the day they moved into the dome.
"I'm trying to find a ukulele so that I can learn a new skill set while I'm in the dome," Johnson said.