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On the desolate slopes of Mauna Loa on the Big Island, 8,200 above sea level, sits a geodesic dome. A remote habitat where the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and Cornell University are performing ground breaking research on long duration space travel.

The Hawaiʻi Space Exploration Analog and Simulation program (HI-SEAS) reached a significant milestone on August 13, 2013, when six researchers emerged after being isolated in the habitat for 118 days.

“It’s been a great success and it’s paved the way for three more years of this kind of research,” said Kim Binsted, a UH Mānoa associate professor and the HI-SEAS principal investigator. “NASA is thrilled with what we have done so far and is looking forward more.”

Hawaiʻi Space Exploration Analog and Simulation program researchers emerge after being isolated in the habitat for 118 days.

After four months of being cut off from the rest of the world, the researchers enjoyed a breakfast of fresh fruits and other goodies. The main focus of the first HI-SEAS mission was a food study—meals cooked by the crew versus traditional pre-prepared astronaut meals, all while simulating the living and working experience of a real planetary mission.

“Based on this study we’ll be able to offer a strategy that optimizes everything and is a good balance between, on the one hand, not wasting too much time preparing your food and wasting to many resources but on the other hand, keeping your crew fit and healthy,” said HI-SEAS researcher Angelo Vermeulen.

“You definitely need the ability to express yourself, take away some of that boredom and menu fatigue but you also want some of the efficiency that comes along with those days that you are really busy and you just want to make something quick,” added fellow HI-SEAS researcher and crew member Sian Proctor.

The researchers also worked on a number of different projects, like exploring the local geological features in mock space suits, and a study on anti-microbial t-shirts that could be worn for months. NASA has awarded $1.2 million to the HI-SEAS program to fund three more missions aimed at overcoming what the space agency calls “red risks.”

“So these are problems we need to solve before we can send people on long duration space flights,” said Binsted. “And crew cohesion, that very question, how do keep astronauts sane and happy and productive on a long duration mission is a red risk and we are going to go a long way of solving that.”

A mission to Mars is the ultimate goal, a journey that would take just under four years. Thanks to the HI-SEAS program and the habitat built in partnership with the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems, the University of Hawaiʻi is on the forefront of space exploration research.

“We’ve got all sorts of researchers knocking at our door to come and have their projects be run at this site so yes it is a wonderful opportunity for the state and the university,” said Binsted.

It is also an amazing opportunity for UH students.

“I thought it was pretty tremendous that I got to be involved in something great like HI-SEAS, in my own backyard,” said UH Mānoa student Ileana Argyris, who worked on the project.

“We have had several UH students working on this project and we will have them working on the project in the future and maybe even going into the habitat as crew members in the future,” said Binsted.

Planning for the next mission is underway as the crewmembers from the first mission adjust to life back on Earth.

“I am loving feeling the breeze against me,” said Proctor after the mission ended. “Even the warmth of the sun, on my face. That’s nice.”

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