Ever since the evolution of Homo sapiens, humans have looked up. What they saw was an endless sea of stars. One planet stood out among the rest– the planet Mars. In relatively recent times, we have developed the technology necessary to leave our crowded planet and emerge into the lonely regions of space. The ability does not come lightly. Every year, NASA spends almost 10 billion dollars. We have taken the first small step, a mission to the moon, but now it is time for a mission to Mars. As we speak, the preparations are taking place. One very important question that must be answered concerns the length of the trip. The loosely planned date for people to go to Mars is sometime in the 2030’s, and unless we develop a warp drive in that time, the journey will take around 6 months, with 500 days on Mars, and another 6 months coming back. So, how will humans cope with the isolation? How will it feel standing 54.6 million kilometers away from everything and everyone you’ve known? To answer some of these questions, NASA has financed a project that is taking place on a Mauna Loa volcano. The project is called the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, or Hi-Seas for short. The goal of the project is to study how well a small group of people, without outside contact, work and get along together.
There are many problems that could arise during the 8 month simulation. Isolation could lead to depression. Also, personality conflicts could escalate very quickly. A Lord of the Flies scenario would not be ideal for the real mission to Mars. Even though the goal is to maintain cohesion between people, cohesion can lead to independence, and therefore conflict from mission control. In the 3rd quarter is when things might fall apart. The interesting part is that no one really knows what is going to happen. The communication that the test subject would have with the outside world is very limited. They can only use e-mail, and each message will be delayed 20 minutes before being sent. In addition to this, it will take upwards of 40 minutes for anyone to reply to simulate lag time from space. Accurate time conversation would be impossible.
150 people applied to participate in the study, and only 6 were chosen, based on their backgrounds and personalities. The commander is Martha Lenio, 34, an entrepreneur looking to start a renewable-energy consulting company. Other crew members are Jocelyn Dunn, 27, a Purdue University graduate student; Sophie Milam, 26, a graduate student at the University of Idaho; Allen Mirkadyrov, 35, a NASA aerospace engineer; and Zak Wilson, 28, a mechanical engineer who worked on military drone aircraft at General Atomics in San Diego. For their time, each is receiving round-trip airfare to Hawaii, an $11,500 stipend, food and, of course, lodging. They even get to take “space walks” outside of the dome. These individuals might represent the future of human space travel. NASA refuses to go on until this is solved. So now, we must watch, wait, and hope, that one day humans can wander among the stars.