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Mars on Earth

February 27, 2016

The timeframe for astronauts to visit Mars keeps on slipping. Such a trip isn’t likely to happen for decades, if at all. Yet researchers are continuing to prepare for it by studying how a crew might react during the long journey.

NASA, for example, is funding a project called HI-SEAS. Six volunteers are living on the slope of Mauna Loa, a volcanic mountain in Hawaii. The living conditions are designed to simulate a one-year stay on Mars. The volunteers live in a dome, wear spacesuits when they go outside, and get their power from sunlight. There’s a time lag for communications with a command center, and no other direct contact with anyone else.

One of the project’s goals is to understand how a crew gets along in cramped, isolated conditions. That’s also a goal of a project sponsored by the European Space Agency — one in which the conditions are even more like those on Mars.

Scientists are studying the behavior of crew members who spend a year at a research base in Antarctica. It’s almost 400 miles from the nearest outpost. And during the winter, it’s so cold that aircraft can’t fly in or out, so the crew is stranded.

This year, scientists are looking at changes in crew members’ balance and sleep patterns, as well as their hearts and bones. They’ll also look for changes in performance as crew members “pilot” a simulated spacecraft.

These experiments will help space agencies pick a crew for a real trip to Mars — whenever it may happen.

More about Mars tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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