1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

NASA begins year-long 'Mars isolation' experiment

August 29, 2015

A crew testing how a small group of humans might cope with a trip to Mars has started their 12-month mission. They will have to eat, communicate, and live exactly as they would on Mars - in a tiny dome in Hawaii.

Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/N. Scheibelhut

Six people began a year of isolation inside a dome in Hawaii on Friday to help NASA prepare for a human mission to Mars. They will live in a dome just 36 feet (11 meters) wide and 20 feet (6 meters) tall on the slope of Mauna Loa with no animals and little vegetation.

The team is comprised of a German physicist, a French astrobiologist, and four Americans - a pilot, an architect, a doctor, and a soil specialist. The crew will each have their own small room, eat only powdered and canned food, have only limited access to the Internet and wear a spacesuit whenever they travel outside the dome.

They are "six people who want to change the world by making it possible for people to leave it at will," according to crew member Sheyna Gifford, a doctor who is also blogging about the experience at LivefromMars.life.

Architect Tristan Bassingthwaighte wrote on his LinkedIn page that he will be "studying architectural methods for creating a more habitable environment and increasing our capability to live in the extreme environments of Earth and other worlds. Hoping to learn a lot!"

Preparing for the real thing

The 12-month mission is the longest on US soil and twice the length of the normal time astronauts spend on the International Space Station. It also represents a significantly less expensive type of space research than the typical NASA experiment - the space agency is spending only $1.2 million (1.07 million euros) on the simulation.

Similar simulation experiments have been conducted in Antarctica, under the ocean off the coast of Florida, and in Russia. The Mars 500 experiment in Russia was a joint effort by the Russian, Chinese, and European space agencies in which a volunteer crew spent a staggering 520 days in isolation to simulate a mission to Mars.

NASA plans to conduct three more such experiments in the near future. They estimate that a real human mission to Mars would take between one and three years to carry out.

es/nm (AFP, dpa)