Astronauts on simulated Mars mission ‘struggled with no internet’

A member of the team that took part in a fake mission to Mars said that losing internet access for eight months was more frustrating than the personality clashes between team members.

British astrobiologist Sam Payler, 28, said that no personal insults were levied at any member of the crew during the whole of the “mission” that ended on 17 September.

But being without the internet created more difficulty than social conflict, since it meant problems took days instead of minutes to solve.

“I was very lucky to have a great crew. No isolated group can be immune to any arguments, but everyone did an amazing job of working through any issues we had,” Payler said.

“We spent a lot of time talking about how to avoid conflict. Incredibly, not once did anyone use a personal insult.

“The group was very carefully selected to try and get a group that would work well together and get along, and we seem to have achieved that.”

The simulated mission was designed to understand psychological and social issues that may arise on a future mission to the Red Planet.

During their time together on a high rocky plain below the summit of Mauno Loa in Hawaii, the crew members lived and worked as if they were on Mars, carrying out maintenance, conducting scientific studies and exercising.

They relied on ‘shelf-stable’ food and were denied all fresh fruit, meat or vegetables. Space suits had to be worn on excursions outside the dome, which were carried out in teams.

“Our days were packed with the types of task work which helped us not go stir crazy,” Payler told the Press Association.

“Keeping focused and busy is key to keeping physiological health up. We also worked out a lot - six times a week for me - to keep spirits high and help us deal with the physical EVA work, going out on the volcano in space suits.

“The habitat never felt small to me, partly because I got on so well with my crew mates. We always found fun things to do such as watch movies together or play board games.

“Had we not got along so well, I’m sure it would have felt a lot more claustrophobic.”

He said he especially missed “fresh fruit, juice, ice cream, steak, fresh seafood and beer”.

Payler added: “The morning we ‘landed’ we were brought fresh fruit, doughnuts and a few items a few people had requested from McDonalds.

“Later, the mission support folks barbecued us some steak and prawns which was amazing. We also went to a bar for some local Hawaiian beer and cocktails.”

Browsing the internet was impossible because of a 20 minute communication delay intended to mimic the time it takes for radio signals to travel between Earth and Mars.

This departure from modern life on Earth proved to be one of the crew’s greatest challenges, said Payler.

“The lack of internet and long delay meant problem solving was often very difficult, with issues that might normally take five minutes to solve taking two to three days,” he said.

“We also couldn’t use social media or speak live to anyone back on Earth, and so communicated only through pre-recorded messages and emails. The crew were the only people we saw and spoke to for eight months.”

Re-adjusting to normal life was “a little strange,” he admitted, adding that all the crew members were “a bit nervous” before leaving.

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