Yesterday, six people stepped onto the ground at Mauna Loa in Hawaii, breathing in air unfiltered by a spacesuit or habitat for the first time in a year. They had spent the past 365 days living as though they were part of a mission to Mars.
The six people were part of the fourth Hawaiʻi Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) mission, designed to see how crew members on long-haul flights to Mars might be able to handle the extreme isolation of space travel to another planet.
The location in Hawaii is on the rocky, volcanic slope of Mauna Loa, over 8,000 feet above sea level in an abandoned quarry. The volunteers all lived and worked in a geodesic habitat, only able to exit the building while wearing a “space suit”, prohibited from seeing anyone other than their crew members in person for the entirety of the mission, the longest of its kind.
Previous HI-SEAS missions lasted no more than eight months, which was strenuous enough, but a real mission to Mars would likely last at least a few years. Longer periods of time studying how people act in isolation can help NASA better prepare and select a crew for the first crewed missions to Mars, which are currently scheduled for the 2030’s.
If pretending to be on Mars for several months and getting paid for it is appealing to you, you’re in luck. The HI-SEAS group is recruiting for its next two missions in 2017 and 2018. Both missions will be for 8 months instead of 12. If you are between 21 and 65 years old, able to speak and write fluently in English, have an undergraduate degree in science or engineering and at least three years of graduate study or experience, and can pass a “class 2 flight physical examination”, among other requirements, you can apply. Good luck!