Six people have begun a year-long mission to Mars without ever leaving Earth. Last week on the slopes of Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii, the volunteers sealed themselves inside a dome habitat where they will live in isolation for one year on a simulated space mission. The fourth Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS 4) aims to study how deep space missions can maintain morale on prolonged voyages.
Funded by NASA and conducted by the University of Hawaii at Manoa and Cornell University, the HI-SEAS project began in 2013 as a cost-effective way of carrying out isolation experiments in the context of a simulated mission to the Red Planet. It uses a solar-powered dome 36 ft (11m) in diameter and 20 ft (6m) high designed to simulate a Mars habitat. This dome is situated 8,000 ft (2,400 m) up on the slopes of Mauna Loa on the island of Hawaii, which act as an analog of the Martian surface.
HI-SEAS 4 is the fourth and longest of the HI-SEAS missions , with prvious simulations only lasting four to eight months at a time. Its male/female crew consists of volunteers from France, Germany, and the United States and includes an MD, an architecture post-graduate student, a soil scientist, a space scientist, an astrobiologist, and a physicist.
Slated to last a full year, the purpose of the HI-SEAS 4 is to study how astronauts can maintain morale and continue to perform at an effective level not only in relative isolation from the rest of the human race, but also a small group in conditions of near-zero privacy. During the mission, the crew will eat freeze-dried foods to simulate astronaut diets and provide suggestions to improve menus for actual space crews, They are only allowed out of the dome while wearing simulated spacesuits for geological and microbial surveys.
"I’m looking forward to getting to act like an astronaut for a year, because I’ve wanted to be an astronaut for most of my life," says HI-SEAS crew member Andrzej Stewart. "I’m not a real astronaut yet but I’m getting closer and closer to that dream and this is a step in that direction."