NASA has said that it would launch its manned Mars mission in 2030s. It will be a long journey. NASA’s spacecraft is expected to take at least six months to reach the red planet. Astronauts will spend about 500 days exploring Mars. The return journey will take another six months. That means a small group of astronauts will have to remain disconnected from the civilization for 2-3 years.
It’s part of NASA’s Hi-Seas program
To understand the psychological impact of a Mars mission on astronauts, the space agency has put six people in a dome on a Hawaiian volcano. The group will spend the next eight months in the dome, simulating a stay on the red planet, reports The New York Times. It is part of a study called the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation or Hi-Seas.
Kimberly Binsted, principal investigator of the project, said that psychological risks are yet to be completely understood. The Mars mission won’t fly until this puzzle is solved. Prolonged isolation leads to depression, which may cause personal conflicts. The health and productivity of astronauts are also very important. NASA has already conducted two four-month missions under the Hi-Seas program. It is scheduled to conduct one more next year.
NASA hasn’t fully isolated the crew members
The Hawaiian dome is about 36-feet in diameter. It sits on Mauna Loa at an altitude of 8,000 feet. To simulate the actual conditions, the crew members are mostly cut-off. They can communicate with the outside world only through email. Each email is delayed by at least 20 minutes. That means when a would-be astronaut sends a message they should expect at least 40 minutes delay in response. Real-time conversation will be impossible on the Mars mission.
However, Dr. Binsted said the crew members haven’t been fully isolated from the outside world. NASA allows them to check their banking accounts, access a few websites. Further, there is a cell phone to communicate in the event of emergencies. NASA had received about 150 applications to participate in the study. Of them, three men and three women were chosen.