Life on Mars

webt-flight-martian

Photo Credit: Sheyna E. Gifford, 2015

For the next year, former Lockheed Martin engineer Andrzej Stewart and five other crew members will be living in a 993-square-foot dome on the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii. Why? They are the inhabitants of a simulated Mars outpost called HI-SEAS IV.

The mission behind HI-SEAS is to provide a research opportunity to study the needs of astronauts on Mars—from energy and consumption to the physiological, social and physical effects of living in a closed habitat.

Think you are up for the adventure? Read on below to learn about Stewart’s first month living as a ‘Martian.’

What is a day like for you at HI-SEAS?

The dome itself is a mix of a workplace and a home. With that in mind, a day in HI-SEAS closely mirrors a typical day on Earth. Our typical mission day includes work tasks, such as performing activities for the main psychological science, working on our personal science and engineering projects, and recording videos for media and outreach. We perform housekeeping tasks, such as cleaning and cooking meals. We also work out daily, just as real astronauts in space do, to maintain our health and fitness.

What has been one of the most rewarding things you’ve experienced?

So far, the most rewarding things I’ve experienced have been the engineering contributions I’ve been able to make to the mission. I’ve worked closely with our mission support team to upgrade our data networks and keep them running. I’ve implemented tools to monitor and analyze our usage of our limited power and water resources. I’ve also rebuilt a broken quadcopter. Now that it’s back to flying condition, hopefully we’ll be able to use it as a tool on our extra-vehicular activities (EVAs).

What are some downsides to life on simulated Mars?

The downside of participating in this mission is the separation—not only from friends and family, but from humanity itself. I’ve found it hard to keep track of world events during my analog missions. This is not only because I tend to maintain a busy work schedule, but also because I find reading about the topics that typically make headlines discouraging: war, crime, death, and politics. The world changes a lot in a year; when we “land” back on Earth in August 2016, I’ll essentially be stepping onto a whole new world, full of new experiences and new technologies.

What are some of the experiments you are working on? What are you learning?

My own activities are currently focused on engineering tasks, especially robotics. I’ve brought a Lego Mindstorms kit that I’m using to learn more about and experiment with robotics. I’m also interested in applying that robotics knowledge, so I’ve brought along a remote-control quadcopter that I intend to use as an aid to our EVAs. The quadcopter will act as an aerial set of eyes, allowing us to remotely inspect parts of the dome that are inaccessible to us, and explore impassible terrain. The quadcopter itself was found crashed and abandoned in the Sierra Nevada by a friend of the crew. A set of replacement parts arrived a few days ago. This past weekend, the quadcopter flew for the first time since its crash. This morning, we performed a very successful full test flight while on EVA.

Have you read The Martian yet? What do you think? Have you noticed any parallels in your own life to the challenges faced by the book’s astronaut, Mark Watney?

The Martian has been on my reading list since I met Andy Weir at Johnson Space Center in April. Right now, I’m reading An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield. My mother bought me the book, so it came first on the list. It’s actually been a really good read so far, and the insights and advice that Chris Hadfield gives from his astronaut experience have been quite applicable to life here on simulated Mars.

With a few weeks under your belt, what do you think? Would it be easy to live on Mars?

Life on simulated Mars isn’t all that different from life on Earth. There are some hardships, like the separation from family, friends and the rest of humanity, but nothing I’d consider insurmountable. It’s hard for me to say for sure how easy it would be to actually live on Mars—we’re missing the element of danger that real Mars astronauts would have to deal with—but life on simulated Mars hasn’t been too difficult so far and is still very “Earthlike” in many respects.

To follow along with Stewart’s HI-SEAS adventures, check out his blog— he’ll be updating it throughout the year.