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Reflection: Learning to Live on Mars, on Mauna Loa

by Emily Peavy on April 19th, 2017

‘Imiloa invited Brian Shiro, Geology Lead for the Hawai’i Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) program, into the planetarium for the monthly lecture series Maunakea Skies. He discussed the ongoing project where NASA researches issues relating to long-duration missions to Mars, on Mauna Loa in Maunakea Skies: Learning to Live on Mars… on Mauna Loa.

Simulating Mars
Throughout recent years NASA has gained a new interest in sending humans to live on the planet Mars. Such an expedition to the Red Planet introduces an array of challenges that need to be addressed before a full mission could be planned. Some of these challenges relate to the great distance from the Earth which would mean that potential astronauts would have to deal with long mission duration, isolation, and time delays in communication with Earth, all of which can affect overall psychological health. To study and address issues relating to these challenges NASA has created and utilized an analog site on the slopes of Mauna Loa; this is the HI-SEAS project.

The HI-SEAS site is a disused quarry site on the slope of Mauna Loa. This ideal environment simulates Mars in that its isolated, the basalt is similar to that we find on Mars, and it visually looks like the Red Planet. The habitat is a temporary structure that uses solar panels and hydrogen fuel cells for power. While the research purpose of the project is to test the psychological effect of isolation, a tangential effort is being made to develop sustainable building practices, low resource use, and “smart” sensors which regulate the habitat’s internal environment.

Living and Working in Isolation
Since its conception in 2012, HI-SEAS has conducted 4 missions with its 5th mission currently in progress. These missions last from 4 months to 12 months. Crew members live in the habitat throughout this time and can only leave the habitat during Extra Vehicular Activities (EVA’s), which occur only a couple times each week, and the crewmembers must wear space suits like the ones that would be worn on Mars. Crew members are given projects such as mapping geological features of the area and running geological tests. The results of these projects are compared to tests conducted by geologists unhindered by the suits and long term isolation to see how the unique environment affected the crew members.

Learn more about this exciting projects by visiting UHH News, West Hawaii Today, New York Times, The Daily 360 Video, Time and at the HI-SEAS website. Tours of the habitat site are available between missions. If your organization might be interested in a tour contact Dr. Kim Binstead at or Dr. Bryan Caldwell at

Join us for ‘Imiloa’s next Maunakea Skies Talk on Friday, April 21 at 7pm: Cutting Edge Technology and Ancient Mysteries, presented by Dr. Luca Rizzi, Support Astronomer at the W.M. Keck Observatory. Pre-purchase your tickets at ‘Imiloa’s front desk, or over the phone by calling 808-932-8901.

From → Astronomy

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