The end of NASA’s massive Mars simulation

In August 2015, six volunteers - an astrobiologist, a physicist, a pilot, an architect, a journalist, and a soil scientist - entered an 11-by-6 metre dome, located near a barren volcano in Hawaii, to simulate what living conditions would be like on Mars.

On August 29, 2016 they re-emerged from their year-long isolation. The NASA-funded project, called HI-SEAS (Hawaii Space Exploration Analogue and Simulation), was designed to test the effects of isolation in confined conditions of a human mission to Mars. This is the third such simulation, and the longest; the two prior missions lasted for four and eight months, respectively. The Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii was chosen as a location because it’s most similar to the red, barren Martian terrain.

The six participants could only communicate with the outside world via email, and those transmissions were delayed by 20 minutes to mimic how long it would take for such a signal to travel between Earth and Mars. Resources were limited: anything they needed, they had to bring into the dome with them at the outset, right down to duct tape. Food was replenished every four months, and water every two months.

Volunteers were involved in a Mars simulation on Hawaii.

The crew were allowed to leave the dome, but only if they donned heavy space suits. And there were simulated emergencies: everything from power outages and broken tools, to a forced evacuation to avoid a harsh radiation wave.

When the HI-SEAS crew finally emerged, a documentary film crew was on hand to capture the moment for posterity. The film-in-progress is called Red Heaven, and it’s the passion project of indie filmmakers Lauren DeFelippo and Katherine Gorringe. Their goal: to provide a “raw and intimate look into what life on Mars might really be like.”

You can view the trailer here:

But given the box-office success of the film The Martian and global interest raised by images from the Hubble Telescope, it may not be long before humans do really live on Mars.

Image credit: C Heinicke via HI-SEAS.