When we think about a trip to Hawaii we usually conjure up images of rest, relaxation, and recreation. Though millions of people flock to this tropical paradise every year, vacation is not always the reason for the trip. So, why did scientists just spend four months in Hawaii?
The picturesque sunsets, the peaceful beaches, and the myriad of exotic fruit infused drinks are just a few reasons why millions of people from all around the world arrive on the shores of Hawaii each year. This tropical paradise has been a vacation destination for a long time for those who want to get away from it all. Well, that's precisely why a group of NASA scientists just spent four months there, to get away from it all. In March of 2014 six scientists selected by NASA arrived at their new home, a 36 foot wide two story solar powered dome high atop a volcano on the big island of Hawaii. They remained there in total isolation for four months and just recently emerged once the test mission was over.
During their time on this project, they were in their temporary dome-home conducting tests on communication methods, monitoring food and water shortages, administering medical treatments, capturing their thoughts on being isolated, testing out new suits, and many more day-to-day protocols for the space agency. So, why do all these tests on top of a volcano in Hawaii? This location was selected because the terrain is reminiscent of NASA's next huge step in space exploration, Mars. As of now the plan is to launch this manned mission to Mars in the year 2030. This gives scientists time to get cracking on various tests needed to address some issues with safely landing humans on the red planet.
These early tests are not 100% accurate since Mars has a different gravitational pull on bodies, the atmosphere is different, and these tests only account for time on the planet (not the two and a half years of commute time needed to go there and back), but it's a good start. In these four months of being cut off from the world, these scientists did have to deal with real functional issues like what to do when water runs low or procedures in the event of a communication black out from home here on Earth. These tests also included the examination of brand new space-suits designed for soon to be Martian surface explorers. Pretty cool stuff.
For a long time Hollywood has been showing us their images of Mars, a desolate red planet, home to aliens that dwell below the surface, but astronomy fans are excited to get up to date videos and photos of humans interacting on the neighboring planet in the near future. The Apollo missions inspired an entire generation that watched the famous lunar landings on TV. With the next destination selected, the science community is very excited to see what impacts these initial trips will have when humans first get a chance to say aloha to Mars in person.