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Crew of six return from four-month (mock) Mars mission

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Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist, theweathernetwork.com

Monday, July 28, 2014, 1:53 PM - While we're still at least a decade away from seeing the first colonists set foot on Mars, for some scientists and engineers, that's just too long of a wait. Fortunately for them, they can visit the Red Planet much sooner than that, by signing on with the HI-SEAS mission, which has just returned their second crew of researchers safely back to Earth... figuratively speaking, at least.

No humans were actually launched into space during this mission, of course. HI-SEAS, which is short for Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, is a mock Mars mission set up on the slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano. The environment on Mauna Loa is one of a few (along with others in Utah, northern Canada, and Australia) that are known as 'Mars analogs' - places on Earth where the environment is about as close as you can get to what is found on the surface of Mars. These aren't just adventure trips or a way to 'get away from it all' though. These analogs are useful in that they allow researchers to test equipment and procedures, in preparation for the first missions to actually land in the frigid, dry and desolate environment of Mars. Each crew simulates exactly what they would go through in a real Mars mission. Any venture outside is considered an EVA - Extra-Vehicular Activity - where all crew wear full environmental suits. All communications with their colleagues 'back on Earth' undergo a 20-minute delay, to simulate the lag they would experience on Mars. They must live with each other, work together, solve problems together, resolve conflicts, and all coexist for the success of the mission.

The first HI-SEAS mission took place between April and August of 2013, when six people - including robotics engineer Simon Engler, from the University of Calgary - spent time pursuing their own research projects while they tested out what kind of food astronauts and colonists would eat while on a real Mars mission, and how crews would coexist for long-duration missions. This latest mission, HI-SEAS 2, which wrapped up a four-month stay on July 25, continued on with the experiment with a fresh crew of six people - B.C. native Ross Lockwood, Americans Anne Caraccio, Tiffany Swarmer, Casey Stedman and Dr. Ron Williams, and French researcher Lucie Poulet - each of whom had their own individual research interests, which they discuss in the video below:

On the last day of the HI-SEAS 2 mission, the crew held a Google Hangout with the public, discussing their last four months sealed away on "Mars" and then finally making their first unsuited exit of the habitat since March. The video below, although an hour and a half long, is well-worth the watch.

This isn't the last HI-SEAS, although it is the last of the shortest-duration missions. The project is now taking research applications, for the 8-month-long HI-SEAS 3 mission, which starts in October of this year. 

According to the HI-SEAS website: On an actual planetary surface mission, astronauts would be engaged in a broad variety of research, exploration, engineering, and outreach activities, as well as exercising and carrying out routine housekeeping chores. Our crew members have to be busy in the same way astronauts are busy, so that they have realistic schedules and time limitations. Also, we are eager to support research that will help advance the human exploration of space. For these reasons, we invite external research projects for the crew to carry out.

The application deadline is September 8.

For more info on the HI-SEAS mission, including crew blogs, videos, and educational outreach, check their website (click here). Photos of the latest mission, taken by Ross Lockwood, can be found on Flickr (click here).


UPCOMING: Come back tomorrow and each day this week for more news about the Red Planet, as we lead up to the 2nd anniversary of NASA's spectacular landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars.


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NASA's Opportunity rover may have just broken the off-world driving record
Incredible new geological map of Mars will guide our investigation for years to come

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