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Second HI-SEAS Mars space analog study begins

The HI-SEAS training included preparations for donning a simulated space suit, for use during excursions from the habitat. Here, crew member Tiffany Swarmer makes some adjustments with the suit. (Photo courtesy of Ross Lockwood)

The HI-SEAS training included preparations for donning a simulated space suit, for use during excursions from the habitat. Here, crew member Tiffany Swarmer makes some adjustments with the suit. (Photo courtesy of Ross Lockwood)

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A new space odyssey began Friday night as the six crew members of the new Hawaii Space Exploration and Analog Simulation (HI-SEAS) mission entered their remote habitat on the first night of a four-month-long journey.

Under a dark night sky on Mauna Loa, commander Casey Stedman closed the simulated air lock behind the crew, sealing the habitat and cutting off all physical contact with the outside world for the next 120 days.

But while the outside world is locked away, the inside world will be closely monitored.

Using surveillance cameras, electronic surveys, crew member diaries and other sources, researchers from the University of Hawaii at Manoa will be keeping an eye on the crew.

Researchers are tracking group cohesion and a wide range of cognitive, social and emotional factors. They are particularly interested in how technical, social, and task roles within the group evolve over time and how they affect performance.

It’s all part of NASA-funded research to understand how teams of astronauts will perform during isolated, long-duration space exploration missions, such as those that will be required for human travel to Mars.

“Our tools and technology for space exploration are very good, but as a human race we still must contend with the ‘soft side’ risks of space travel,” said Kim Binsted, associate professor at UH Mānoa and principal investigator for HI-SEAS.

“The risks are greater the farther we hope to explore and the longer we have to keep people in space,” Binsted said. “We need to determine the best way to pick and train a crew with the right psychological makeup and supports to deal with the pressure. We also need to understand how ground crews can best assist astronaut teams that are operating under a high degree of autonomy over time.”

It takes an unmanned spacecraft between 150 to 300 days to travel between Earth and the red planet. Scientists estimate that a manned journey to Mars will take around three years to complete round-trip.

NASA believes that different emotional and psychological factors might be more important for longer duration trips.

In June 2013, NASA awarded UH Manoa $1.2 million to support three space analog missions over the next three years: four months (this one), eight months, and one year in duration, respectively. The new research follows a successful HI-SEAS food study conducted last year.

The HI-SEAS crew members will be living in a solar-powered dome that is 36 feet in diameter. The first floor of the habitat has a kitchen, dining area, bathroom with shower, a lab, and exercise and common spaces. A second floor loft features six tiny bedrooms and a half bath.

Special care has been taken to ensure the integrity of the space analog environment.

For example, crew members experience a 20-minute communications delay whenever they make contact with the ground crew, just as astronauts would when Earth and Mars are at their farthest apart.

Likewise, crew members will suit up in mockup spacesuits whenever they step outside of the habitat. These “excursions” will be modeled after extraterrestrial surface explorations such as those conducted during the Apollo missions to the Moon.

The six crew members and the reserve (alternate) member are:

* Ross Lockwood – A PhD candidate in condensed matter physics at the University of Alberta. Ross is from Winfield, British Columbia, Canada.

* Casey Stedman – An officer in the US Air Force Reserve. Born in Vermont, Casey now considers Washington his home.

* Ronald Williams – Director of the Neuropsychology Department at Fort Wayne Neurological Center, Indiana. Ron holds a PhD in Neuropsychology and is from Bloomington, Indiana.

* Tiffany Swarmer – Research assistant studying human factors and performance for long-duration space missions at the University of North Dakota’s Human Spaceflight Laboratory. Tiffany was born at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland.

* Lucie Poulet – A PhD candidate at the Institute of Space Systems at the German Aerospace Center. Lucie designs hybrid lighting systems for greenhouses to enhance plant growth and is from the Lorraine region of France.

* Anne Caraccio – A NASA researcher developing a method of turning waste from space missions into useable gases for fuel/propulsion, environmental control, and life support systems. Anne is from Bellmore, New York.

* James Sakai, a mechanical engineer and Captain in the US Army Reserve, is from Rupert, Idaho. (Reserve crew member)

— Find out more:
hi-seas.org

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