Standort: / Meldung: "Human guinea-pigs"

Steve Crilley

God, what's happening in the world! A reality check on the web.

1. 4. 2017 - 13:56

Human guinea-pigs

What would you agree to do in the name of science? How about living on the side of a sleepy volcano experiencing what life could be like on Mars? As part of a Reality Check on researchers who experiment on themsleves, Steve Crilley caught up with crew members from NASA's HI-SEAS project.

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We've all seen the pictures of what life looks like on the surface of Mars. It looks fairly barren, no water (that we know of ), no vegetation, a rocky and somewhat reddish, dusty place with extremes of temperatures. NASA is keen to understand more about how astronauts would cope with manned missions to Mars. And experiments have been taking place to asses how humans would survive being on a hostile martian surface for months at a time.


Life from above on the real martian surface

Welcome to NASA’S HI-SEAS Mission. It's an ongoing project to simulate conditions future astronauts would experience living on the surface of Mars. The astronauts in the HI-SEAS Mission live essentially in a sealed dome perched on the side of a 2000 metre high dormant volcano in Hawaii.

Picture the scene, you climb up a barren, northern slope of a remote mountain (Mauna Loa), and your home for the next months is a dome that is 11 meters in diameter and six meters tall in a place with no animals and little vegetation around. The men and women that make up each crew have their own small rooms, with space for a sleeping cot and desk, and they spend their days eating foods like powdered cheese and canned tuna, only going outside if dressed in a spacesuit, and having limited access to the internet. Does it sound sound tempting yet?

University of Hawaii at Manoa

Inside the dome - the interior of the HI-SEAS habitat on the northern slope of Mauna Loa in Hawaii.

I hosted a Reality Check Special on human experimentation, when scientists and researchers go one step further and agree to be human guinea pigs. The experiments they are interested in are conducted on themselves. With this in mind and hearing about the NASA projects here, I spoke to two scientists who took part in HI-SEAS missions. Crew members Zak Wilson who spent 8 months on the HI-SEAS III project and Dr Sheyna Gifford, who was on HI-SEAS IV for a year.

University of Hawaii at Manoa

Steve: Sheyna, did you ever want to give up and come out of the dome at any point before you were officially due to emerge and come back to your normal life?

Sheyna: I don't think I every questioned my abilty to continue and to my knowledge I don't think any of us did. There were certainly challenges that were both anticiptated and unanticipated. It was challenging for example to watch my fellow crew member Cyprien Verseux from France endure the attacks on Nice. I'm quite sure that Cyprien didn't sleep that night. I think he stayed up and willed his (purposely slow) computer to give him information about his friends and family back home and it was hard to watch him go through that. When you are up "in space", your abilty to actively make life better back on earth is quite limited. You do what you can.

University of Hawaii at Manoa

Steve: Zak, what did you find challenging about the experience of being in this dome with your fellow crew members for 8 months.

Zak: We didn't have any live communication with anybody in the outside world. All communications had some form of delay built into them, when we send an email there's a delay of about 20 minutes before it gets sent out and when you get a reply it takes 20 minutes to come back to you. That is to simulate the time it takes for a signal to travel to and from the Martian surface. It really changed the way you interact with people when you can't have a normal conversation. If you have a problem, an emergency and a question, it's going to take you at least 40 minutes to get an answer! You have to be more self-reliant than what you would normally be used to for space operations.

University of Hawaii at Manoa