How many explorers turned that word over in their minds, contemplating the journey ahead, and the paths behind them?
For the last 60 days, the second HI-SEAS crew and I have worked, ate, slept, read, investigated, cooked, constructed, researched and LIVED in the mock habitat module you see in the photo above. This is our office, our laboratory, and our home.
The simulation we are a part of cannot replicate every aspect of life on Mars, there is no way to reduce atmospheric pressure or Earth’s gravity, for example. But many of the other factors that future planetary explorers will face are ever-present here. We are isolated enough from civilization and modern conveniences to experience them as astronauts would.
In the last 60 days, the crew and I have faced power system failures, water shortages, illness, fatigue, electrical fluctuations, spacesuit leaks, medical emergencies, network dropouts, storms, habitat leaks, and numerous equipment failures. We’ve just emerged from a 4 day communications blackout that forced us to operate independently from our mission control and ration our water even more than normally.
Every troublesome event is has significance though, because these are lessons that provide data for NASA and the scientists studying the mission. How the crew responds to each crisis will help future mission planners devise new techniques to mitigate risks and better prepare astronauts for the challenges of long duration missions. Our performance as a team during every unanticipated event provides information that helps the crew selection staff determine which skills and attributes are necessary for future astronauts to possess. Every equipment failure allows the space agencies and manufacturers an opportunity to learn what engineering solutions must be applied to creating the tools needed to survive on Mars.
The journey ahead may be much like the one we’ve already traveled, or perhaps very different. Long duration space missions are new territory for our species. Every analog mission like HI-SEAS helps us to learn the unanticipated and prepare for the future. Preparation is the key to success. It is the difference between Amundsen and Scott on their quests to reach the Antarctic pole: for both men and their respective expeditions, the pole was only the halfway point. It was the second half of their journeys that determined which teams succeeded, and which died.