Astronauts train to live on Mars

Astronauts train to live on Mars

A walk on Mars on Mauna Loa. This was the name of the game, if you can call it that, for the astronaut candidates of the HI-SEAS habitat, atop the Hawaiian volcano. Today, team members shared the latest updates on their ultimate mission at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly.

HI-SEAS, or Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, is a mock extraterrestrial base that has been operational since 2013. It offers scientists, engineers and members of other fields traveling in space the opportunity to live on the volcano. Trained astronauts inhabit 8,200 meters on the mountain for up to a year, conducting business as they would on a permanent base on the Moon or Mars. Their work offers insight into how humans would actually be able to live off the planet in the future.

“There is still so much we need to learn, especially from how humans interact in these difficult conditions, in particular about how to create a spatial family environment where everyone can get along and work together, ”Michaela Musilova, director of HI-SEAS, said in an email. "So, we also need to figure out how to fix problems that might occur in long-duration missions, which is something that has a lot of room for improvement."

To this end, HI-SEAS recently conducted a hydroponics experiment to grow lettuce inside the habitat, an effort made on the International Space Station in 2015 (you can buy the LEGO set at this link) . When storms hit the islands, the team puts the habitat into low-power mode, as happens with a solar-powered generator.

Analog astronauts, as they are called, are not bombarded by radiation and do not deal with microgravity, but play the part of lunar or martian explorers. Team members don space suits whenever they venture beyond the cramped habitat they share, complete with a head-up display and limited oxygen supplies. Musilova said some of the biggest technical challenges come in those off-base trips, where suits built to protect astronauts in "space" can be clunky for the team's geological, volcanological and astrobiological work. These excursions take place on the soil of the Mauna Loa and in the lava tubes of the volcano, channels where molten rock once flowed.

"The working environment in the lava tubes is very demanding," said Musilova . "Analog astronauts have to go down into caves with sharp rocks all around. Sometimes they need to crawl into some of the narrow parts of the pipes or climb close to vertical walls. So, they have to carry out research, such as collecting sensitive microbiological samples or drilling with special equipment ”.

ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter Along with other simulated habitats at NASA's Johnson Space Center and elsewhere, HI-SEAS is part of the growing effort to prepare humans to live on other worlds, which could be soon. NASA recently selected SpaceX as a company to build its Artemis lunar lander. At some point, our visits will have to become stays if human space exploration is to go beyond its heyday in the twentieth century.

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