MAUNA LOA, Hawaii – Six crew members entered the geodesic dome at the 8,200 feet level of Mauna Loa on Thursday, beginning eight months in isolation.
Joshua Ehrlich, Laura Lark, Sam Payler, Brian Ramos, Jay Bevington and Ansley Barnard are members of Mission V of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s Hawai‘i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation project. HI-SEAS has been operating long-duration planetary surface missions to investigate crew composition since 2012.
The previous Mission IV was concluded in August 2016. That crew successfully completed the program’s first one-year isolation mission, placing it in the company of a small group of analogs that are capable of operating very long-duration missions, such as Mars500, Concordia and the International Space Station, the university says.
NASA funded HI-SEAS missions 2, 3 and 4 with a $1.2 million grant and has provided $1 million for missions 5 and 6. Mission VI is scheduled for 2018.
The habitat on Mauna Loa – which is Earth’s largest active volcano (not erupting) – is ideal, project officials say.
“This is the best and most obvious place to do this research,” said Kim Binsted, HI-SEAS principal investigator and UH Mānoa professor. “Both because of the physicality – as you can see, it looks like we’re on Mars – but also because of the range of expertise available at the University of Hawai‘i. We’ve got some of the world’s top planetary scientists. We’ve got some of the world’s top astronomers.”
“The crew will be monitored by an experienced mission support team and will perform exploration tasks such as geological field work and life systems management,” a UH media release states. “The conditions, such as delayed communication and partial self-sufficiency, are explicitly designed to be similar to those of a planetary surface exploration mission. Daily routines include food preparation from shelf-stable ingredients, exercise, scientific research, equipment testing and tracking resource utilization such as food, power and water.”
“For the next two missions the key is crew selection,” Binsted said. “We’ve changed our selection process, so we’re doing a whole series of psychological tests. We’re doing a series of cognitive tests, as well as more structured analysis of their educational and professional backgrounds.”
“Iʻm looking forward to building relationships with my crew,” said HI-SEAS Mission V Crew Commander James Bevington before he shut the door to the outside world. “I fully anticipate coming out with five new best friends.”
“Iʻll be looking at optimizing our power and water resources uses,” said Ansley Barnard, HI-SEAS Mission V Crew Engineer. “So Iʻm excited to understand the engineering problem, because the habitat is an impressive facility and it really is quite a complicated unit.”
For more information, visit the HI-SEAS website.