Hi-SEAS Mars Mission Simulations

Onwards Earthlings! Onwards to Mars!

Hi-SEAS stands for the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation. The project is funded by NASA. It is an exploration of Human nature. How will a small group of space travelers cooperate and solve problems external and internal inside a confined habitat? A return mission to the red planet will be long. It will take about six months to Mars, 500 days on the planet, and then another six months home. An interplenatary mission that will last two to three years can lead to depression. Conflicts among the crew can spin out of control over the months. Psychology of space farers is extremely important. In his famous book series of Mars trilogy (Red Mars, Blue Mars, Green Mars) Kim Stanley Robinson made an interesting case. In the novel psychological tests were naively designed to select best liars. How can we design more intelligent identifiers of cooperativity, productivity under confinement, crowding and isolation? Hi-SEAS aims to find clues and solve these challenging psychological pitfalls that may jeopardize a mission. NASA’s Mars missions are expected to happen around 2030s (see the video at the very bottom).

Until now only four people have spent more than one year in space. The record holder is Valeri Polyakov who spent 437 consecutive days on the Mir Space Station. The longest Earth-based spaceflight simulation involved four Russians confined in connected hyperbaric chambers for 240 consecutive days. Antarctic winter-over missions have extended up to 363 days. Among several simulated Mars missions one in Russia conducted in 2010 and 2011 lasted 520 days. The behavioral profiles of volunteers were rather striking. Four of the six volunteers developed sleep disorders and became less active and less vigilant as the experiment progressed. The Mars Society, has run short simulations in the Utah desert since 2001. A one-year simulation is being planned in the Canadian Arctic beginning in 2015.

Hi-SEAS habitat is a two-story dome building 36 feet in diameter with about 1,500 square feet of space. It sits in an abandoned quarry at an altitude of 8,000 feet on Mauna Loa.

To simulate the interplanetary conditions, the communications of the crew members to the world outside the dome are reduced to email. Messages are delayed by 20 minutes, simulating the lag for transmissions between Mars and Earth. Two way communication lag amounts to 40 minutes and thus real-time conversation is rather inefficient. On the other hand, the crew members can check a few websites necessary to continue their lives on Earth. There is also a cellphone for emergency such as a hurricane threatening Hawaii. The Hi-SEAS crew will performing various scientific work. During the simulation there will be excursions outside the dome wearing spacesuits.

There’s a dedicated facebook page for Hi-SEAS missions where regular updates are posted. Here’s a report update from Mission III:

On long journeys companionship is crucial for mental health and productivity. One of the conditions that lead Charles Darwin to be accepted on board the HMS Beagle was to have gentlemen qualities for providing companionship to captain Robert FitzRoy during the 5 year journey. This was going to be the second expedition for HMS Beagle and Captain FitzRoy was aware of the psychology of loneliness out in the sea affecting especially officers being in charge. He knew of the suicides both of Captain Stokes and of his uncle Viscount Castlereagh, who had cut his own throat in 1822 while in government office. Darwin proved to be a suitable gentleman companion for the voyage. His scientific tastes, made good use of the expedition’s opportunities for studying natural history while providing useful discussions during dinner.

In the past there have been a few big human experiments in confined environments such as the Biosphere II experiment, ConShelf underwater habitat experiment which inspired Aquarius Reef Habitat experimental station that continues to serve as a training and research facility including astronauts of the International Space Station.

Mars is an exciting planet that can satiate the imagination of any folks out there who dream of non-existing adventurous fantasy worlds. Tectonic activity on it’s surface ended very early in its history and many of the exaggerated geological features have been retained. These include enormous volcanoes such as Olympus Mons the largest volcano in our solar system (twice high as Mount Everest and size of state of Colorado), deep canyons such as Valles Marineris system (three times as deep as and hundred times as wide as the Grand Canyon) forming a massive fracture on the crust of the planet and craters formed by large impacts. A colossal impact is now seen as the reason for it’s north-south crustal dichotomy.

There are a number of extremely successful on going rover projects on Mars including the Curiosity rover. Another rover Opportunity has been active since 2004 and it’s odometer clocked more than 40 km! In the meantime NASA is testing it’s technologies that will be used in human Mars missions including a Plutonium Sterling engine for power generation and flight components inside Thermal Vacuum Testing Facility #6:

 

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