This is the sixteenth in a series of reports from the HI-SEAS simulated Mars mission. Read others in the series here.
On Tuesday, the HI-SEAS crew will step outside our habitat unprotected by mock spacesuits for the first time in four months. The breeze will kiss our cheeks, fresh air will fill our noses and lungs, and if the weather holds, bright light from the sun will shine into our eyes. We’ll have arrived back on Earth.
But an interesting thing has happened in the build-up to our reentry. Paradoxically, some of our conversations have veered away from Earth, and even past Mars. We’ve discussed what it would take to build, operate and live on a starship, the kind of craft that steers toward neighbor suns, all the while sustaining generations of people for tens or hundreds of years.
This is the fifteenth in a series of reports from the HI-SEAS simulated Mars mission. Read others in the series here.
There are less than two weeks left in the mission, and sleep is still at a premium. Many of us net less than seven hours a night, constantly trying to pay off sleep debt. I should know better than anyone: my research here investigates the quality and quantity of HI-SEAS crewmember sleep—or, evidently, the lack thereof.
Sleep is an intimate part of our lives, and the crew has been generous enough to donate data on theirs to help me answer some questions. Simply put, I wanted to know how a 45-minute dose of morning light affects crewmembers’ sleep the subsequent night. Will it help them fall asleep faster? Will it increase time spent in REM or deep sleep? Will they feel more rested overall?
This is the fourteenth in a series of reports from the HI-SEAS simulated Mars mission. Read others in the series here.
UPDATE 3:03PM CDT | Early Monday morning Hawaii time, Tropical Storm Flossie tracked north and then west, just glancing the Big Island, on a path for Maui. At the habitat, all is calm, safe and sound.
Winds on the Red Planet can rage up to 100 miles per hour—hurricane speeds on Earth. But thanks to an atmosphere about 1 percent as dense as our planet’s, such gusts don’t pack a punch. And while the wind is often sandy, the grains are fine. It’s less sandblast and more smoke cloud.
The problem, however, is that these clouds can expand to cover areas the size of Earth’s continents and last weeks or months, blocking energy from the sun and potentially damaging joints on rovers or other equipment.
On Earth, our storms are smaller in scale and shorter in duration, but significantly more powerful. As I type this, one of these is bearing down on Hawaii, home to our four-month HI-SEAS simulated Mars mission. The storm’s name is Flossie, and she is forecast to bring significant rain and wind speeds up to 45 miles per hour—which could spell havoc for our tiny outpost.
This is the thirteenth in a series of reports from the HI-SEAS simulated Mars mission. Read others in the series here.
Last week, from the comfort of our isolated habitat on Mauna Loa, I remotely controlled a lunar rover onto a rock where it got stuck. Luckily the rover wasn’t actually 250,000 miles away. It was on a simulated moonscape outside Montreal where an engineer was able to dislodge it.
I’m not proud. But I can explain.
As a simulated Mars mission, HI-SEAS is a testbed for all sorts of space-related projects. The idea is that, as a crew on a mock Mars mission, we can try out systems and offer helpful feedback on prototypes. Testing spacesuit simulators and antimicrobial workout shirts, socks and pajamas are just a few of the projects underway. And over a couple days last week, we got to have the experience that future Mars colonists might have—using a remote-controlled rover to explore our planetary surroundings.
This is the twelfth in a series of reports from the HI-SEAS simulated Mars mission. Read others in the series here.
It’s late March at Gale Crater, the landing site of the Mars Curiosity rover. And according to the Mars Weather site, temperatures haven’t made it above freezing for weeks.
It’s a cold spring for Curiosity after a surprisingly warm winter. But the engineers knew what they were getting into when they designed the rover. They knew its systems would need to endure temperatures colder than -150 degrees Fahrenheit, and that they would need to operate reliably without much time above a balmy 32 degrees.
The same basic principle applies to any future human habitats on Mars. But in addition to sporting systems that can withstand harsh, fluctuating temperatures, a habitat must also survive a journey to and a landing on the planet, keep its inhabitants protected from harmful radiation and a toxic atmosphere (or lack thereof), and maintain comfortable indoor temperatures.
Speaking from experience in a simulated habitat I can tell you: Shirtsleeve temperatures are preferred.
This is the eleventh in a series of reports from the HI-SEAS simulated Mars mission. Read others in the series here.
Astronauts’ dirty laundry could be a big problem on a Mars mission.
Here on Earth, we take clean clothes for granted, but on an interplanetary ship, a traditional washer and dryer would be impractical. And it’s simply too bulky, expensive, and wasteful to blast up many years’ worth of disposable clothes for a long-haul voyage. So what’s a Mars explorer to do?
The approach taken on the International Space Station won’t help, unfortunately. Currently, astronauts go about a week or so without changing their drawers.
Don’t worry. It’s likely not as bad as it sounds. Because the ISS is a controlled, relatively clean environment and fabrics hang looser on the body in microgravity, clothes don’t get dirty as quickly up there as they do on Earth. Still, there are no laundry facilities on the space station. Soiled clothes get ditched.
This is the tenth in a series of reports from the HI-SEAS simulated Mars mission. Read others in the series here.
This week, I’ve put together an audio slideshow to give you a sense of what it’s like to live inside this simulated Mars habitat. We’ve been working, eating, exercising, filling out surveys and sleeping in this enclosed space for two months now.
Last Saturday we hit the halfway point in the mission. Less than two more months to go!
This is the ninth in a series of reports from the HI-SEAS simulated Mars mission. Read others in the series here.
Most of our time on this simulated Mars mission is spent inside a geodesic dome. We conduct research, make and document meals for our food study, do chores, and fill out psychological and behavioral surveys. It’s no surprise, then, that adventure is hard to come by.
But on Wednesday of this week, three of us gave it our best shot. We donned our green spacesuit simulators and took a hike. For two and a half hours, we clambered over the shifty and crumbling lava rocks just east of our habitat. We walked to the edges of pits and peered over steep drop-offs. And we investigated a nearby lava tube cave, hollowed out years ago by an immense column of molten lava.
This is the eighth in a series of reports from the HI-SEAS simulated Mars mission. Read others in the series here.
On June 3, 1965, astronaut Ed White pushed out of the Gemini 4 capsule and floated into space. White, the first American to conduct an extra-vehicular activity, or EVA, was tasked with testing a hand-held maneuvering unit, taking pictures and generally making history. Twenty-three minutes after his exit, White reluctantly re-entered his spaceship, disappointed he couldn’t stay out longer, but exhilarated all the same.
As a crew on a simulated Mars mission, part of our job is to conduct EVAs here on Earth. The thinking is this: Astronauts on a Mars mission will need to go outside for routine maintenance, to study geology and to explore their surroundings. A simulated mission should provide that kind of workload. Also, it’s good to stretch the legs, get some natural light and take a break from day-to-day monotony.
This means that once or twice a week, a team of two or three HI-SEAS crew members leaves the confines of the dome to walk the lava fields of Mauna Loa. And yes, we do it in spacesuits. Or, more precisely, we wear spacesuit simulators. Our suits are nowhere near robust enough to protect a person in the vacuum of space.
As the wind whips across the Bering Sea, for an instant it courses over a tiny speck of land called St. Paul Island, far off the coast of Alaska. At the peak of the last ice age some 21,000 years ago, this dot in the middle of the ocean was a volcanic mountain at the southern edge of the Bering Land Bridge, yet as the ice melted and seas rose, its black cliffs became shorelines, trapping ice age fauna on its landscape, the most massive of them the woolly mammoth.
I’ve come to St. Paul with a team of six researchers bent on solving a mystery surrounding the mammoths of St. Paul Island: Mammoths survived here for nearly 2,000 years after the last mainland mammoths disappeared from Siberia 8,700 years ago. Trapped here on the island, the mammoths were somehow protected, and the researchers, led by paleontologist Russ Graham of Pennsylvania State University, want to know why. They want to know exactly when the mammoths disappeared from the island, and whether their ultimate demise can help settle the controversy of why mammoths went extinct elsewhere. Did people, a changing climate, or something else kill the last of the mammoths?