On August 29,2017 NASA finished the latest eight month test for the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) project. This is the fifth test of the project. The crew consists of Ansley Barnard (USA), James Bevington (USA), Joshua Ehrlich (USA), Laura Lark (USA), Brian Ramos (USA), and Samuel Payler (UK). The goal of this and previous tests are to see how people react to confined spaces that would be similar to an outpost on Mars. This last test was four men and two women In a dome structure for eight months. The research is to aid NASA and other space agencies in selecting the crew for a mission to Mars. NASA is planing a potential mission to Mars in the 2030s.
The HI-SEAS project location was selected to closely resemble the terrain of Mars. The volunteers spent 8 months in a 2 story 1500 square foot dome with an attached workshop. There was limited electricity and water to approximate conditions on Mars. Unlike the Biosphere 2 project in Arizona during the 90’s the participants were allows to leave the dome while wearing space suits.
After 8 months in the Dome one of the volunteers said “I’m super-excited because it’s the first time we get to be outside without wearing a spacesuit, and everything is different,” With limited electricity and water the participants needed to adjust to life in a mock up of a Mars base. They had internet access with a 20 minute delay to simulate the time delay for communications back to Earth.
The Biosphere 2 project appears to have been part of the base design for this project. Unlike Biosphere2 the dome was not air tight and had an opaque cover. The volunteers could go out to do various scientific experiments. Biosphere has problems with CO2 build up. This caused health challenges for the participants. One of the participants HI-SEAS was asked what he needed for the project he said some projects and plenty of books to keep busy as boredom was the real enemy.
The crew are optimistic about a trip to the Red planet many saying they would volunteer for the actual trip to Mars. Using the information from all of the projects in Hawaii to choose the team for the 1st mission to Mars will give NASA the highest chance of success. It is clear a human failure is just a devastating as a rocket failure to the entire project. Being able to accurately determine who can withstand the rigors of spaceflight and prolonged isolation on a distant planet is very important to colonizing Mars and other possible long term missions.
Given the latest development with 3D printers especially the concrete 3D printer that can build a house in a day using local materials. The human factor is becoming more important as supply runs to off world outpost would be difficult. Having a stable crew building a base camp on Mars or one of the many moons in the solar system would be very important to future settlements through out the solar system. Larger Space Stations as a refueling point or debarkation stations would also need stable long term crews. These experiments are going to help determine who would be best suited for this type of mission.
There are more test being planed to help improve the selection criteria. As with anything involving humans there are factors that cannot be accounted for. Scientist and sociologist will review the data and test results to narrow down the criteria to give long term off world assignments the best chance of success.