Year-long Mars mission simulation comes to an end

A team of six scientists has emerged from a yearlong simulation of life on Mars(Credit: University of Hawaii)

A team of scientists have re-entered normal life on Earth after spending a year on Mars – or at least, a year-long simulation of life on Mars. Conducted by the University of Hawaii and NASA, the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) research project set out to study the psychological effects of isolated, confined space missions on astronauts.

Home to the crew since August 28, 2015, the HI-SEAS Habitat is a geodesic dome set into the slopes of Mauna Loa, Hawaii. Crammed into a cosy floor space of 1,200 sq ft (111.5 sq m) is a communal kitchen, dining, lab and exercise areas, a bathroom and six tiny, separate bedrooms. Power comes from a 10 kW solar array, and all communications with the outside world were on a 20-minute delay, to mimic the time it would take to send messages between Earth and Mars.

This is the fourth and longest simulation run in the facility since early 2013, and like previous missions, the key goal was to study team cohesion and performance, and how that may be affected by the stresses of not only living in isolation from the outside world, but doing so in a crowded space with little privacy.

The six scientists also hoped to apply their simulated experience of living on Mars to their own areas of expertise. Tristan Bassingthwaighte, a doctor of architecture candidate, went in hoping to use his experiences to help design a habitat concept for Mars missions, based on the psychological and social needs of its inhabitants. Cyprien Verseux was interested in how Martian explorers may be able to live off the land, and Carmel Johnston wanted to study the idea of food production in a Martian environment.

"I can give you my personal impression which is that a mission to Mars in the close future is realistic," says Verseux. "I think the technological and psychological obstacles can be overcome."

The team emerged from the dome on Sunday, and in a press conference, expressed how much they'd enjoyed the experience, but were keen to rejoin life on Earth. The University of Hawaii is already recruiting for another two simulations, to be held in 2017 and 2018.

You can see the moment of "re-entry" in the video below.

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