‘Mars Visitors’ Return After Year-Long Mission

Photograph by Sian Proctor, University of Hawai'i

Photograph by Sian Proctor, University of Hawai’i

Six people have finished a year of isolation designed to replicate life on Mars. The crew have been inside a 36 by 20 foot dome near a Hawaiian volcano.

It’s the third and longest such mission following previous experiments lasting four and eight months. While similar studies have concentrated on the long journey inside a spacecraft, these three trips are based around the particular challenges of a long stay on Mars. Unlike the spacecraft simulations, the participants this time were not astronauts but rather from a range of backgrounds including journalist and architect.

For the most part the crew have been kept inside the dome where their possessions and equipment could not be replenished. The only “deliveries” were water every two months and food every four months.

While the crew could leave the dome for short periods, they could only do so in space suits and in a short area around the dome. The Hawaii location, near a volcano, was designed for psychological purposes as the surrounding area was featureless and almost barren of plantlife.

The only contact the crew had with the rest of humanity was through an e-mail connection with a 20 minute delay on every message to replicate the slow interplanetary communications.

For the first time on such a mission, the crew carried a virtual reality helmet with 30 pre-designed ‘environments’ including some of the crew’s choice. The idea was to see if being able to experience time in these virtual worlds would provide a psychological escape from the monotony and claustrophobia of the dome.