Six astronaut-like crewmembers entered a geodesic dome located 8,200 feet above sea level on Mauna Loa, which will serve as their home for the next eight months.
NASA has awarded $1.2 million to the Hawaiʻi Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) program to continue its work studying the human factors that contribute to astronaut crew function and performance during long-duration space travels, such as those anticipated for a manned mission to Mars.
The new contract award builds upon an ongoing HI-SEAS study, led by Cornell University and the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, that is analyzing new types of food and novel food preparation strategies to keep astronauts well-nourished for long-duration space exploration. Both grants are funded by the NASA Human Research Program.
“Our HI-SEAS site on the Big Island is unique among space analog locations, because it is easily accessible year-round, allowing for longer-duration isolated and confined environment studies,” said UH Mānoa Associate Professor Kim Binsted, principal investigator for the new program.
“The Mars-like environment at 8,000 feet elevation on Mauna Loa offers the potential for high-fidelity space analog tasks, such as geological field work by human explorers or robots,” Binsted continued. ”It’s an ideal location to model the challenging conditions that astronauts are likely to encounter during their stay on Mars.”
More than 700 applicants vied for six spots in the original HI-SEAS mission, which began in April 2013 and is expected to run until August 2013. These Earth-based researchers are now living and working like astronauts, including suiting up in space gear whenever they venture outside a simulated Martian base and cooking meals from a specific list of dehydrated and shelf-stable food items. The public is invited to follow along with the videos, researcher blogs and test recipes featured on the HI-SEAS website or on Twitter or Facebook.
The new NASA funding will fuel three additional space analog missions over the next three years: four months, eight months and one year in duration, respectively.
Recruiting for the next HI-SEAS mission will begin shortly, with the first of the three new studies expected to begin in January 2014.
For more information, read the UH Mānoa press release.