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HI-SEAS crew
Andrzej Stewart, chief engineering officer for the HI-SEAS simulation, looks around after emerging from a habitat in Hawaii. Other crew members celebrate in the background. (Credit: Univ. of Hawaii)

After spending 365 days cooped up in a habitat and mock spacesuits in Hawaii, six volunteers say astronauts can cope with an even longer, real-life mission to Mars and back.

“A mission to Mars in the close future is realistic,” said Cyprien Verseux, a French biology student who was part of the HI-SEAS simulation crew. “I think the technological and psychological obstacles can be overcome.”

Verseux and his crewmates were held in isolation for an entire year inside the 1,200-square-foot habitat on the slopes of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano. They were allowed to venture outside only for scientific expeditions while wearing simulation spacesuits.

The experiment is part of a NASA-funded program aimed at identifying psychological, technological and logistical factors that might pose challenges for a long-term mission to Mars. This was the fourth and longest simulation managed by HI-SEAS at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

The crew’s three men and three women emerged from the habitat on Sunday and faced questions about their time in isolation.

During the simulation, the volunteers had to rely on limited food supplies and deal with health and maintenance issues, both simulated and real. Communication with the outside world was delayed by 20 minutes, to mimic the delays that would be experienced due to light travel time to and from Mars.

German crew member Christiane Heinicke marveled over the habitat’s water system.

“You can actually get water from the ground that is seemingly dry,” she said. “It would work on Mars, and the implication is that you would be able to get water on Mars from this little greenhouse construct.”

Russian researchers conducted a 520-day Mars mission simulation in 2010-2011, and found that the crew had problems getting enough sleep and exercise during lengthy isolation. Previous HI-SEAS’ simulations have suggested that total candor isn’t always the best policy for getting along with crewmates.

Crew members in spacesuits
Crew members from a previous simulation journey outside the habitat, visible in the background. (Credit: Ross Lockwood / University of Hawaii)

Verseux had a suggestion for making future simulations, and missions to Mars, go more smoothly.

“Bring a ukulele,” he said. “No, seriously: Playing music helps a lot.”

HI-SEAS’ principal investigator, Kim Binsted, was all smiles as the crew adjusted to life outside the habitat. “It’s really exciting to welcome the crew back to Earth and back to Hawaii after a year on Mars,” she said.

NASA has approved funding for two more HI-SEAS simulations, each lasting eight months in 2017 and 2018. The crew application deadline is Sept. 5.

A previous version of this story misspelled “ukulele.” Thanks to Bill Higgins for putting the spelling back in tune.

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