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Six astronaut-like crew members said their final good byes on October 15, 2014 as they entered an isolated domed habitat for eight months, for the longest space travel simulation conducted on U.S. soil.

It’s the latest mission of the Hawaiʻi Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) led by the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and funded by the NASA Human Research Program. The goal is to prepare humans for travel to Mars and back that could take an estimated three years.

“I think it’s important to advance science and technology and to continue exploring, and to one day not have to rely not only on Earth and to have more places for humans to live and thrive and keep continuing,” said HI-SEAS crew member Jocelyn Dunn minutes before entering the habitat.

“I would love to be one of the first people to go to Mars,” agreed fellow HI-SEAS crew member Zak Wilson. “So that’s my personal reason for doing this. Maybe this is as close as I ever get, but maybe it’s just another step on my path to Mars.”

This is the third of four planned HI-SEAS simulations in the 1,500 square foot habitat 8,000 feet above sea level on an isolated section of Mauna Loa on the island of Hawaiʻi. If the crew members want to step outside during the mission, they have to wear simulation space suits.

“The purpose of this mission, as well as the one before it and the one after it, is to look at crew cohesion, and see how that predicts performance,” explained principle investigator Kim Binsted, a UH Mānoa associate professor of information and computer sciences. “So we are going to look really closely at the crew’s psychology, over these eight months.”

“I think if we come out of this all being like a really strong team with really strong friendships and bonds, then I think for us, that will have been a success,” said Martha Lenio, HI-SEAS crew commander.

HI-SEAS crew members enjoying a meal at Hilo’s Hawaiian Style Cafe.

The crew spent its last day of freedom taking in the sights of Hawaiʻi island on a helicopter tour, shopping and enjoying a final meal at a popular Hilo, Hawaiʻi restaurant, which was a homecoming for two crew members who graduated from UH Hilo and knew exactly what to order.

“Kalua pork and cabbage, it was amazing,” said HI-SEAS crew member and UH Hilo graduate Sophie Milam. “I have been missing it for about four years now so it was perfect.”

“I had a rib eye and eggs and I am about to tackle these gigantic pancakes, so no stone will be left unturned I can promise you,” said fellow UH Hilo graduate and HI-SEAS crew member Neil Scheibelhut with a smile.

It was also an opportunity for crew members to consider what they will miss the most during the eight months of isolation.

“I think I am probably going to miss the beach most,” said HI-SEAS crew member Allen Mirkadyrov. “We are not going to be able to go to the ocean and I love swimming. I love the beach.”

“My family and friends and especially my dog Charlie and my hedgehog Slim,” added Milam. “I miss the prickly little guy.”

“I guess my biggest fear is losing contact with family and my niece,” said Dunn. “She is only two and a half and I don’t want her to forget me.”

More UH News stories on HI-SEAS

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