Sunday, August 28, 2016 the Hi-SEAS (Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation) IV mission ended. It’s a simulation of a Mars mission conducted on the slopes of the volcano Mauna Loa. Six people spent a year in conditions similar to those the astronauts would face on Mars with a dome-shaped habitat as their home.
This is the fourth Hi-SEAS mission funded by NASA and run by the University of Hawaii after the first that lasted four months between April and August 2013, the second that lasted 120 days between March 2014 and July 2014 and the third that lasted eight months between October 2014 and June 2015. the crew of the Hi-SEAS IV mission was composed of:
- Carmel Johnston, MS, Crew Commander, soil scientist
- Christiane Heinicke, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer & Crew Physicist, physicist and engineer
- Sheyna E. Gifford, MD, Chief Medical and Safety Officer & Crew Journalist, physician
- Andrzej Steward, SM, Chief Engineering Officer, aerospace engineer
- Cyprien Verseux, MS, Crew Biologist, astrobiologist
- Tristan Bassingthwaighte, M.Arch, Crew Architect, D.Arch candidate
This type of simulation is based on the reproduction of the activities astronauts should conduct maintaining physical isolation from the outside world. Communications are kept with the normal instruments that would be used during a real space mission but to keep the realism of a mission to the planet Mars all communication have a 20-minute delay.
A long-term simulation is the only way to try to understand what living on Mars with a few other people would mean. The spaces would be reduced because the astronauts would go out of their habitats only to perform some activities but they’d spend a long time in their habitat and especially in the beginning it would limited in size.
The problems related to the relationship among crew members are as important as those related to food, water and other survival issues. It’s for this reason that there are various projects related to simulations in which small groups of people are isolated together for long periods.
Almost 5 years ago the Mars 500 mission ended, another Mars mission simulation conducted in artificial structures that included the mockup of a part of a spaceship to simulate space travel as well. The psychological effects are carefully studied in order to understand the best way to set up a real mission into deep space.
In a long-duration mission, even boredom was highlighted as a problem because many operations become a routine. The astronauts on the International Space Station can speak with friends and family during their free time, on Mars the communication delay becomes a limiting factor from that point of view. Someone suggested that listening to music can be at least partly a remedy.
New Hi-SEAS missions are already being planned for 2017 and 2018 and the University of Hawaii is looking for qualified people to form the crews. Meanwhile, Hi-SEAS IV mission’s crew members will be subjected to physical and psychological tests to understand their reactions to the long isolation and to their return to normality.