After a year in isolation on Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, NASA’s Mars experiment will be coming to an end. On the big island of Hawaii, Mauna Loa, serves as the Mars substitute because of the similar soil conditions, terrain, and high elevations. One of five volcanoes, Mauna Loa is part of an intense mars simulation mission that is funded through the University of Hawaii with NASA. Mauna Loa is the largest subaerial volcano and is considered the largest volcano on Earth.
At over 13,000 feet in elevation, Mauna Loa simulates life on Mars for the team of scientists. The dome at the volcano has a high ceiling to prevent claustrophobia and has two floors. The mission is part of the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation or Hi-Seas. The team, composed of six scientists from Germany, the US, and France include an astronomer, a physicist, an astrobiologist, and a soil scientist. Conditions are being closely mimicked to conditions on the Martian atmosphere, including a 20-minute communication delay. The delay is the average length a message from Mars would reach Earth.
Other conditions the team had to endure included living in a dome, managing limited resources, and walking outside in spacesuits. Besides living in isolation, the crew continued to conduct research and work to avoid personal conflicts, according to The Guardian. Food is freeze-dried while water is being rationed, simulating the work robots would need to do to gather the water.
Kim Binsted, the mission’s principal investigator, according to Tech Times, says the “simulation is the second-longest of its kind after a Russian mission that last for 520 days.” The crew is doing well and past simulations at the Mauna Loa site lasted anywhere from four to eight months. Similar missions were conducted at Mauna Loa in 2015 and 2013.
In previous simulations, the dome’s area was “divided into a kitchen,an exercise area, and pie-slice sleeping quarters upstairs,” according to The New Yorker. Each member of the previous team was allowed only eight minutes of shower time each week. Team members had small research project while collaborating on a team project.
Upon emerging from the dome, Binstead stated to Tech Times that the current team wants to get into the ocean and perhaps “enjoy having a beer as well.” The mission ends on August 28 with another simulation beginning in January of 2017 lasting for eight months.
By Cheryl Werber
Photo Courtesy Hi-Seas