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They emerged from their habitat one after the other—and stood as a crew one last time.

The five crew members felt the sun and breeze on their faces for the first time in four months. And they indulged in all the fresh food they could eat.

The crew members spent 120 days in this dome-shaped habitat on Mauna Loa on the Big Island—8,200 feet above sea level—simulating a base on Mars.

It was all part of UH Mānoa’s Hawaiʻi Space Exploration Analog and Simulation—or HI-SEAS mission—which aims to research how astronauts perform during long-duration space exploration.

“We were essentially strangers getting here. So when we were placed into the habitat in such a confined space you kind of learned everybody’s personality and their likes and dislikes,” said Anne Caraccio, crew member and chief engineer. “Luckily, this crew was outstanding in the fact that they were very hard workers. They all wanted to perform well on the mission and help each other out as a team.”

“We couldn’t escape from it, so you have to learn to adapt. You adjust your schedules to other people, you adjust the way you react to things” said HI-SEAS Commander Casey Stedman. “You learn about other people and you learn about compromise.”

NASA has committed $1.2 million for three HI-SEAS missions. The focus of these missions is crew cohesion, where crew members examined their moods, relationships, cognitive skills and behavioral changes.

“Sometimes it was like when you’re on a family vacation as a kid and you’re trapped in the backseat with your brothers and sisters,” added Stedman. “You can’t escape. You either get along or it’s going to be a miserable trip.”

Crew members were allowed to leave the dome, but only in spacesuits.

HI-SEAS crew member Lucie Poulet

To get through the four months, crew members exercised and savored encouraging messages from home that were brought to the dome at the start of the mission, and opened on difficult days or special occasions.

The crew also immersed themselves in their assigned tasks. Lucie Poulet conducted several experiments growing fresh produce and observed its effect on crewmembers who maintained a diet of mostly dehydrated foods.

“Most of the crew really enjoyed seeing the plants grow and each time we had the fruit coming it was, ‘Oh my God, there’s a tomato, there are flowers. Oh my God, there’s a pea growing, a tomoto growing. Oh my God, it’s red. We can eat it!’. I harvested them so it was great to see that,” said Poulet.

Ron Williams was the sixth original crew member, but he was forced to leave the mission after one month because of health problems involving altitude sickness.

The 60-year old Williams returned to Mauna Loa from his home in Indiana to welcome his crew mates back to civilization.

“I was just happy to see them,” said Williams. “Very, very proud of them to make it through and for what they contributed.”

The crew will spend a week debriefing before going their separate ways. And many have just one item on their list.

“It’s funny to think that I’ve spent four months in Hawaiʻi and I’ve never seen the beach!” said Poulet.

The next HI-SEAS mission launches in mid-October with six crew members who will remain in the dome for eight months.

More UH News stories on HI-SEAS

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