A huge welcome home to the crew of six astronauts who returned Sunday from a year-long mission to Mars — well, sort of. The group emerged from their domed habitat on Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano after a year of not having physical contact with anyone but each other, and only very limited contact with the outside world.
According to Space.com, this isolation mission by the HI-SEAS program (which stands for Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation), is run by the University of Hawaii at Manoa and funded by NASA. It’s meant to simulate what life might be like for explorers living on the surface of another planet, or, for that matter, a moon. There have been four total programs, but the most recent one was the longest.
Though the crew was right here on Earth, they never left their domed habitat without wearing space suits. They could only exercise on a stationary bike or treadmill inside the dome, and could only eat food that could be stored for years at a time — just as though they were really on the surface of another planet.
During the program, crew members could communicate with their families, but only with a 20-minute delay — so calls were impossible, just like in space. They were able to have books and movies, but access to the Internet was very limited. In addition to these difficulties were the limits of doing work in space, Christiane Heinicke, chief scientific officer and crew physicist, said knowing she couldn’t order extra parts or supplies for her laboratory if she needed them was a huge challenge.
However, the crew members kept busy as busy as possible; Cyprien Verseux, the crew biologist, even brought a ukulele: “No, seriously, playing music helps a lot and, like, a guitar is too big and a ukulele’s perfect,” he said.
The crew also presumably built a TARDIS; at least, a piece from RadioTimes comments on the TARDIS door that leads to some living quarters. Because everyone needs a hobby, right?
The point of these isolation programs is to get an idea of how humans will handle setting up long-duration camps on other planets, especially in terms of crew cohesion and the psychological tolls of isolation.
This is certainly a huge challenge, and every crew member deals with things differently. Said Heinicke, “Yeah, so I’m German, I don’t talk a lot. And these guys here, they are American, and they talk all the time,” making her fellow crew members laugh.
However, each member of the group did have one major thing in common: when asked if they would go on a real Mars mission, if given the opportunity, all six immediately answered, “Yes.”
If this sounds like something you want to try out (and are cool living on “Mars” for a year), you can apply for the next program here!