Six scientists have completed a year-long simulation of a Mars mission, during which they lived in a dome in near-isolation.
The group lived in the dome on a Mauna Loa mountain in Hawaii and were only allowed to go outside if wearing spacesuits. On Sunday the simulation ended and the scientists emerged.Previous simulations in the Mauna Loa dome, which is almost 11 metres (36 feet) in diameter and 6 metres (20 feet) tall, have lasted four to eight months. Mauna Loa soil is similar to what would be found on Mars. The area’s high elevation means there is almost no plant growth.
The group included a French astrobiologist, a German physicist and four Americans – a pilot, an architect, a doctor/journalist and a soil scientist.
They managed limited resources while conducting research and working to avoid personal conflicts.
After walking out of the dome crew members reflected on the experience and what it meant for the future of space travel.
Cyprien Verseux, a crew member from France, said the simulation showed a mission to Mars could succeed.
“I can give you my personal impression which is that a mission to Mars in the close future is realistic. I think the technological and psychological obstacles can be overcome,” Verseux said.
Christiane Heinicke, a crew member from Germany, said the scientists were able to find their own water in a dry climate.
“Showing that it works, you can actually get water from the ground that is seemingly dry. It would work on Mars and the implication is that you would be able to get water on Mars from this little greenhouse construct,” she said.
Crew member Sheyna Gifford wrote a blog post just before leaving about the future of space travel alluding to NASA’s plans to send humans to Mars by 2030.
She said: “Given what it takes to keep people alive in the void – to keep them healthy on Mars for just a year – I can basically promise that by going to space we’ll learn what it takes to keep people healthy in places with heat, light, and gravity. We’ve already started. We’ve been at it for decades. I’ve been at it for 12 months straight, been on call for almost 365.25 days.”
She also talked about her immediate plans upon leaving the dome. “I know what lies ahead for me, to some extent. My husband Ben is just outside the door, along with my mother, brother (also, Ben), and all of you.”
“What now? ... For me, for now – I’m going on vacation.”
An earlier blog alluded to the limited contact the team have had with the outside world. She joked: “In the last 24 hours, I’ve even contemplated having a business card made up that reads: ‘Recently returned from Mars. Please speak slowly. My sincerest apologies for knowing nothing about that song/movie/candidate for high political office/celebrity’s latest spouse/kid/dog/tattoo/“wardrobe malfunction”. For best results, avoid cultural references and make no sudden moves.’”
Kim Binsted, principal investigator for the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, said the researchers were looking forward to jumping into the ocean and eating fresh produce and other foods that were not available in the dome.
NASA funded the study, which was run through the University of Hawaii. Binsted said the simulation was the second-longest of its kind, after a Russian mission that lasted 520 days.