July 28, 2014

Crew Members Return To “Earth” After Four-Month Simulated Mars Mission

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

After spending the past four months living and working in a simulated Mars environment in Hawaii, six volunteers emerged from the mock base on Friday, various media outlets reported over the weekend.

The individuals, who were participants in the second Hawaii Space Exploration Analog & Simulation (HI-SEAS) mission, spent 120 days before departing from “Mars” and returning to “Earth” at 2pm Eastern time on July 25. Their emergence was broadcast live in a Google hangout event.

According to Joel Christie of the Daily Mail, the project participants entered a 1,000 square foot solar-powered dome located atop Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano on March 28. The facility was a mock planet station featuring a kitchen, a dining room, a bathroom, a laboratory, an exercise area and six small bedrooms.

The mission, which was a test to see how astronauts would cope with life on Mars, required the crew members to participate in simulated space walks and to live off dehydrated food. In fact, one of the things that the simulation participants said they were most excited about was having the opportunity to eat regular food again.

“It’s really great to taste fresh fruit and vegetables again,” expedition leader Casey Stedman told ABC News. “It was a really good experience,” he added. “The first thing I wanted to do after I come outside was to squint. We had little direct contact to the sun in the past four months. We wear our spacesuits when we go out, and the masks cover most of our face.”

While Stedman said that there really weren’t many arguments, the crew did occasionally disagree about procedures to accomplish specific tasks. “Even in a family vacation, you disagree with someone over something,” he explained. “We all come from different backgrounds, so we have different interpretation of data.”

Stedman, an officer in the US Air Force Reserve, was joined on the University of Hawaii at Manoa-run mission by Ross Lockwood, a doctoral student in physics; spaceflight research assistant Tiffany Swarmer; space-engineering Ph.D. candidate Lucie Poulet; NASA scientist Anne Caraccio and neuropsychologist Ronald William, said contributor Joseph Castro.

The crew members had a variety of projects to solve while living in the mock Mars base, Castro noted. For example, Swarmer was tasked with improving spacesuit designs and spacewalk procedures, while Lockwood compared the performances of 3D-printed tools and traditional surgical instruments, Poulet studied how well plants grow under different wavelengths of light, and Caraccio kept track of how often crewmembers created refuse.

“Aside from cooking and conducting research, the crew made sure to exercise at least an hour each day – using stationary bikes, cardio video programs and other methods – and spent their leisure time playing board games, reading and interacting on social media, among other activities,” the reporter added.

There were also several problems to overcome, as Stedman explained in a June blog entry: “In the last 60 days, the crew and I have faced power system failures, water shortages, illness, fatigue, electrical fluctuations, spacesuit leaks, medical emergencies, network dropouts, storms, habitat leaks, and numerous equipment failures.”

In addition, Castro said the crew experienced a four-day communications blackout, forcing them to ration their water more than usual and having to do without any assistance from mission control during that period. These simulations will undoubtedly help NASA prepare for potential real-life catastrophes resulting from their planned mission to the Red Planet, which is currently expected to take place sometime in the 2030s.

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