Human Mars mission one step closer as team of scientists enter isolation dome
An eight-month experiment designed to replicate life for astronauts travelling to Mars has begun on the top of a remote volcano in Hawaii.
Six scientists are involved in the study, which is led by the University of Hawaii, and is designed to help NASA better understand human behaviour and performance during long space missions.
The team will spend their time in isolation inside a dome and the study should eventually pave the way towards a manned mission to the Red Planet.
“I’m proud of the part we play in helping reduce the barriers to a human journey to Mars,” said Kim Binsted, the mission’s principal investigator.
The crew will perform geological field work and basic daily tasks in the 365 square metre dome, located in an abandoned quarry 2.5km above sea level on the Mauna Loa volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island.
There is little vegetation and the scientists will have no contact with the outside world, said the university, which operates the dome.
Communications with a mission control team will be time-delayed to match the 20-minute travel time of radio waves passing between Earth and Mars.
“Daily routines include food preparation from only shelf-stable ingredients, exercise, research and fieldwork aligned with NASA’s planetary exploration expectations,” the university said.
The project is intended to create guidelines for future missions to Mars, some 56 million kilometres away, a long-term goal of the US human space program.
The NASA-funded study, known as the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (Hi-SEAS), is the fifth of its kind.
In October, outgoing US president Barack Obama said he would help send people to Mars as soon as 14 years from now with the help of private companies.
Nevertheless, a permanent human settlement on the planet will take at least 100 years according to writer Stephen Petranek in his recent book, How We'll Live on Mars.