Mock Mars missions are occurring at various places on earth, gathering data, building a wealth of material and information for the eventual first trip to Mars and motivate many to succeed. Several such experiences conducted by the European Space Agency have taken place in a series of caves on the island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean. In 2011, 2012, and 2013 the European Space Agency (ESA), used caves as an environment for astronaut training for future space missions.
Using caves for space flight training has several important elements that relate to being in space. Learning to adapt to living and working as a team in a difficult environment, Caveanauts must meet and fulfill mission objectives for scientific and exploration goals. Understanding resources are limited and teams must work within those limits, constantly observe safety rules and follow proper course of action, while performing scientific assignments and documenting the procedures.
Caves are dark alien places. When a person is underground the senses are unable to experience many ordinary and natural sights and sounds. Moving through a cave is similar to spacewalking, as one needs to stay alert, remain orientated and aware of one’s surroundings, so as not to catch a space suit on something the could rip or puncture it. This is also a test of personality and psychological repercussions of actions. Adjusting to a constant group environment, no contact with anything familiar, and a total lack of personal privacy are all stressors and affect individuals in different ways.
Stress is always high in a strange habitat like a cave and affects performance. Caves offer a controlled environment which presents situations where constant vigilance is a must. Problems can originate and be set in motion that need to be solved right away, causing the group members to work together, plan, learn and improve without outside assistance. Being in a cave is similar to being in a space station or space capsule with people of different cultures who need to overcome those differences and solve problems in a confined environment.
After the completion of their six days in a cave setting trainees finish scientific and personal reports, receive a debriefing and compile their experiences in a descriptive communication for the next group of Caveanauts. By passing their information unto the next crew improvements in training may be added, changed or adjusted. Learning to work through situations in caves on this planet may provide valuable information for circumstances that may arise in caves on the Red Planet.
Mock Mars missions such as this motivate many to incorporate their different disciplines in a data base of knowledge for future explorations of Mars. A different crew of six people in Hawaii were recently released from their habitat after a four-month occupation of a mock Mars base on the incline of Mauna Loa, a volcano on the Big Island. This was the second crew to emerge from the mock Mars base also known as the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation mission (HI-SEAS 2). The purpose of these missions is directed at giving NASA more information for future astronauts needs to survive on Mars.
The mock Mars missions crew has been living in a two-story, solar-powered dome, leaving the habitat only for simulated “Marswalks” while wearing mock spacesuits in exploratory jaunts in a Mars-like environment. Each mission specialist had a different set of tasks to perform, complete and document; from comparing the difference in standard surgical instruments to 3D-printed tools, studying plant growth and comparing how they grow with different wave-lengths of light, to investigating a waste profile on how the crew generated trash, plus monitoring emotional responses and psychological adjustments of mock Mars mission crew members.
The crew needed to solve many problems without outside help. Some of the problems encountered and worked through included water shortages, power system failures, electrical fluctuations, medical emergencies, habitat leaks, equipment failures, spacesuit leaks, storms and illness. The HI-SEAS 2 crew also experienced a communications power outage that lasted for four days.
All the information gathered from these various missions assembles more knowledge concerning space flight, living in confined places, the psychology of individuals in a limited sphere of tools, medicine and working constructs, which will assist all the space agencies currently working on a mission to Mars in 2030. Formulating new plans and techniques to diminish future problems for astronauts are the goal of these programs. In October another HI-SEAS mission will commence and is expected to last eight months. The future is built on the motivations of many individuals who use these mock Mars missions to further the cause of humankind’s reach into space.
By Andy Towle