This volunteer is living for eight months in terrain that looks much like the surface of Mars. Six people are isolated high atop Mauna Loa, a volcanic mountain on the Big Island of Hawaii in this make-believe Mars base. The project, funded by NASA, is called HI-SEAS, which stands for Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation.
Kim Binsted of the University of Hawaii oversees the project. She says this setting is as close to Mars as you will find on Earth. “Visually, it is very similar to what you see on Mars. You’ll see that there’s really no visible plant life, there’s no visible animal life. And you’ve got this wonderful volcanic material. We are on a cinder cone here on Mauna Loa.”
The six-member crew inside is mostly self-sufficient. Support personnel bring food and supplies, but cannot interact with volunteers inside the habitat. Binsted says this experiment looks at the interaction of astronauts. “And we study how well they work together, how we can keep them happy and supported, and not wanting to kill each other over these long durations.”
The current crew has been living in the habitat since October and will stay until June. Two earlier crews have gone before them. Participants communicate with the outside world through email and blogs and through YouTube videos like this from mission commander Martha Lenio.
“Hi mission support, this is commander Martha from the HIGH – SEAS Crew 3.” And also with the smart phone app that creates a 20 minute delay for communications as you would have from Mars.
This is not the only group of volunteers with sights set on Mars. An organization called Mars One, based in The Netherlands, has solicited applications for would-be Mars astronauts from around the world. This engineering student in India is one of the finalists for that ambitious private project that may or may not get off the ground.
Observers believe the American or European space agencies are more likely to reach the goal, in the 2030s, or later. Whoever gets there first, the journey will not be easy, says Kim Binsted. “It is going to be challenging.” In the meantime, volunteers are getting a taste of life on a future Mars base. Mike O'Sullivan, VOA News, Mauna Loa, Hawaii.