August 28, 2016 marked the end of the longest living-in-isolation experiment ever undertaken by NASA, the US Space Agency. Simulating life on Mars, six scientists from the HI-SEAS mission experienced complete isolation when their only means of contact with the outside world was sending emails and posting a single monthly message on a blog, in order to replicate the foreseeable difficulties of delayed communication in space.
The mission aimed to test the physical and psychological viability of a cloistered life on Mars. In collaboration with the University of Hawai‘i, the experiment was conducted on Mauna Loa, Hawai‘i, a volcanic landscape similar to the Martian environment. The volunteer team of scientists lived inside a dome measuring 11 meters in diameter with a surface area of 90 square meters, perched at an altitude of 2400 meters on a volcano. The volunteers could only leave their habitation module twice a week for outings in their spacesuits.
Coming from various disciplines (Exobiology, Physics, Control, Architecture, Medicine and Soil Science), the team of 3 women and 3 men devoted their time to scientific experiments to better understand the resources available on Mars and find the means to extend the duration of future missions in space.
With actual space missions to the Red Planet due to start around 2030, the experience conducted in Hawai‘i permitted experimentation, an understanding and analysis of the physical and psychological effects of such a space sojourn on astronauts with living conditions in a confined space with scarce resources similar to the environment of Mars.
For technical reasons, all aspects of a mission to Mars were obviously impossible to reproduce faithfully and simultaneously, such as reduced gravity or radiation exposure. However, the experiment provided NASA with crucial data to understand the behavioral and psychological issues and the impact on the health and the crew’s performance. The findings are promising; according to crew members, technical and psychological issues can be overcome and such missions to Mars would be achievable in the near future.
HI-SEAS IV began in late August 2015 and ended on August 28, 2016. Here are the team members:
Christiane Heinicke, a German scientific engineer. Her main work during the mission focused on the possibility of water extraction from the volcanic soil, which has a mineral composition very similar to that of Mars.
Cyprien Verseux, a French exobiologist affiliated with the University of Rome. He conducted experiments to test the efficiency of cyanobacteria to transform nutrients found on Mars into nutrients for plants.
Tristan Bassingthwaighte, an American architecture specialist in extreme environments. At the time of the mission, he was doing his doctorate in architecture at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His research focused on the development of a “new generation” habitat for Mars.
Sheyna Gifford, an American doctor and journalist. During the mission, she assumed the role of crew safety supervisor. Her research focused on different aspects of astrophysics, neuroscience and psychology, and she has written for NASA educational websites.
Andrzej Stewart, an American engineer leading the mission. With a Masters of Aeronautics and Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he co-piloted the spacecraft for the Spitzer Space Telescope, Mars Odyssey, MRO, MAVEN, Juno and GRAIL missions.
We invite you to read other articles related to the Mars planet and the universe, published on Substance ÉTS.
Darine Ameyed is a postdoctoral associate researcher at the ÉTS Synchromedia Laboratory. She is also scientific project manager at CIRODD.
Program : Automated Manufacturing Engineering
Research chair : Canada Research Chair in Smart Sustainable Eco-Cloud
Research laboratories : SYNCHROMEDIA – Multimedia Communication in Telepresence