Getting a person on Mars will be one of the hardest feats ever attempted. Space agencies continue to develop the technology needed to even get us there. While engineers from across the world figure out how to get us there, other researchers are busy studying how a crew will handle the isolation.

Going to the International Space Station is one thing. Going to Mars? That’s a whole different ball game.

Besides the sheer isolation, a crew to Mars will have to deal with delayed communications and relying on each other every minute of every day for months.

One NASA-funded project is studying human behavior and performance for long-duration space exploration. It’s called Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, or HI-SEAS.

“Since 2012, HI-SEAS has been contributing to NASA’s plans for long-duration space exploration. We are an international collaboration of crew, researchers and mission support, and I’m proud of the part we play in helping reduce the barriers to a human journey to Mars,” says principal investigator Kim Binsted.

HI-SEAS is designed to discover what individual and team requirements are suitable for long-duration missions.

Did You Know: Communications will be one of the biggest issues a crew to Mars will face. More specifically, the delay between sending a message and receiving one. This delay can range from a few minutes to nearly 24 minutes (one way). It all depends on where Mars and Earth are at during their orbits. For the HI-SEAS mission, researchers created a system to delay communications by 20 minutes.

On January 19, six crewmembers will enter their new home atop Mauna Loa on the island of Hawaii. For eight months, the crew will perform tasks we can expect to see one day on Mars. From mission-oriented tasks like geological study to things we do every day like cooking and exercising.

HI-SEAS dome home.

Hawaii HI-SEAS habitat

Discovering another world won’t be done in luxury. The HI-SEAS crew will call this small, white dome home for eight months. Its floor space measures around 1,200 square feet. Each square foot is designed to serve a purpose.

A small sleeping quarters, bathroom, kitchen, laboratory, simulated airlock and ‘dirty’ work are packed into what many of us would consider a small home.

Check out the floor plan from the 2016 mission.

HI-SEAS floor plan

Here’s what kind of behavioral research will be conducted over the next eight months:

“The primary behavioral research includes a shared social behavioral task for team building, continuous monitoring of face-to-face interactions with sociometric badges, a virtual reality team-based collaborative exercise to predict individual and team behavioral health and performance and multiple stress, cognitive countermeasure and monitoring studies.”

January 19 will begin the fifth HI-SEAS mission. Last August, the study wrapped up its successful 12-month Mission IV.

Why Hawaii?

The same reason many of the world’s best telescopes call the state’s volcanic peaks home. Great weather, for the most part. A feeling of isolation without being totally cut off. And its barren landscapes look a lot like Mars.

What we learn from these experiments will help NASA and other space agencies (and maybe even private companies) develop training protocols to condition the next wave of explorers for the isolation of deep space.

Image credits: HI-SEAS.



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