Yesterday, 28 August marked the end of a year-long stint of six people on Mars (sort of). In preparation for actual Life on the Red Planet, a crew of NASA-funded researchers was carrying out a Mars simulation in Hawaii.
NASA hopes to send humans to Mars by 2030 but before that, it is running campaigns to up the chances of survival of whatever team does get to embark on the historic journey. This latest life on Mars campaign consisted of three different gender-balanced crews shut up for four, eight and then 12 months.
The location for the campaign was a small dome, 8,000 feet (2,400 meters) above sea level, on the rocky plane of the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii. It is the closest thing to a Mars habitat that can be gotten on earth.
In order to mimic life on the Red Planet, the crew had to live in the enclosed environment with limited resources (food arrived every four months, water every two), they could only communicate with earthlings (like you and I) via emails delayed by 20 minutes (the time necessary for signals to travel to and from Mars) and could only leave the enclosed space in puffy, heavy space suits, with limited oxygen.
Although they were not subjected to complete, round the clock camera surveillance, they had their formal meetings in the kitchen space recorded on film, had built-in sensors measuring activity levels in different areas and each member of the crew also wore a sociometer, a pocket radio-like gadget which measured social interactions using data like noise volumes.
They were also required to fill out weekly surveys and play one virtual reality game designed to comfort astronauts who might suffer from loneliness on long missions.
The simulation also saw researchers purposely triggering stressful, emergency situations to test group cohesion and performance. Life on Mars to put is simply, was not a walk in the park.
Kim Binsted, the project’s principal investigator said that the data acquired and the future analysis that will be carried out on it was necessary to pinpoint what might fuel problems between crew members on a future trip to the Red Planet. Binsted says;
“There is never going to be a perfect crew. Things will go wrong…But insight from these experiments might help a crew recover quickly from issues when they arise.”
The next campaign which will start January 2017 will go further to test the ideal makeup of a Mars-bound team, remote medical treatments for issues like the flu or a broken leg and different recycling systems.
It seems like technology will be ready just in time to give us life on the Red Planet but, of course, there are a number of other factors to consider outside technology, two of the most important of which are finances and politics.