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?
This is the seventh in a series of reports from the HI-SEAS simulated Mars mission. Read others in the series here.
The other day I had to figure out what to make for dinner. On this mission, we have plenty of raw ingredients — pastas, tofu, dehydrated beef, freeze-dried vegetables, and even complete meals — so I puzzled over my options for some time. My turn to “cook” fell on a day that we were required, by the HI-SEAS food study, to use just-add-water-and-heat foods only. In the end, I went with a dehydrated meal of sweet and sour pork with rice. On the side, I added rehydrated green beans, couscous and some pouches of instant paneer makhani in case the sweet and sour pork turned out to be a dud. From concept to sit-down dinner for six, the whole process took about 35 minutes.
Not bad. But to be honest, on that day, I’d rather have spent the time doing something else. It would have been awfully nice to simply turn to a Star Trek-like replicator and pull out plates of perfectly layered lasagna. And I know I’m not alone in thinking this. That’s why recent news that NASA awarded a $125,000 grant to a company developing a 3-D food printer for future space missions got so much attention. After all, it promises to reduce time in the kitchen with a sci-fi flourish. But should printed food be the future of sustenance on remote space outposts? Based on my experiences living and eating on this simulated Mars mission, I’m not so sure.
This is the sixth in a series of reports from the HI-SEAS simulated Mars mission. Read others in the series here.
One month down.
On Wednesday we had a party to celebrate. We listened to a retro playlist of The Who, Missy Elliott, Alanis Morissette, and the Monkees. We made spam musubi and chocolate cake. We drank lemonade spiked with dehydrated raspberries, mangos, pineapple and papaya. (Alas, alcohol is not allowed on the mission.) And at sunset, we unveiled a window installed earlier that day, a porthole to lava fields, distant volcanoes and a glorious orange globe. We toasted to the window, to the sun, to our camaraderie and to only three more months left to go.
When I signed up for this project, I wasn’t sure what the biggest challenge would be. And in a 120-day simulated Mars mission—essentially an isolation experiment—there are plenty of challenges to choose from. Would it be missing my wife? Missing phone conversations with my parents? Missing happy hour drinks with friends in San Francisco? Would it be the lack of fresh air and sunlight? The monotonous scenery? The infrequent navy showers? Would it be living amicably with five strangers in just 1400 square feet? Or the tedium of filling out multiple daily surveys and reports so the researchers running this project get good data?
This is the fifth in a series of reports from the HI-SEAS simulated Mars mission. Read others in the series here.
There’s no fresh fruit on Mars. We don’t have fresh vegetables, either, and our food is nowhere near “local.” Most of our meals are made of freeze-dried and dehydrated ingredients that we either rehydrate or just eat crunchy.
There are a couple of reasons that dehydrated and freeze-dried foods reign on the HI-SEAS simulated Mars mission. First, weight. If you take out water, food stuff is nearly as light as air. And payload weight is a crucial factor when you consider it costs about $10,000 to blast a pound of anything into space. Second, preservation. A trip to the Red Planet could take anywhere from about 150 to 300 days, depending on the planetary alignment and speed of the ship. The green beans will need to last.