SpaceX recently announced plans to send a rocket to Mars as soon as 2018, and to get people there by the 2030s.
The agency, owned by Elon Musk, is inching toward these goals as they continue to test their reusable Falcon 9 rocket — landing it on progressively more difficult targets from land to sea.
The launches are incredibly exciting: My heart races every time I watch the rocket liftoff and beats even harder when I watch one touch back down. Understandably, the entire SpaceX team and Elon Musk are similarly filled with anticipation. But what does all this excitement mean for all of us regular people?
Will future generations one day walk around in Habs like Matt Damon did in “The Martian”?
The answer is: Maybe. And there’s a place on Earth where we can imagine what it would be like. It’s the Hawaii Space Exploration Analogue Simulation (HI-SEAS) in Mauna Loa, Hawaii.
There sits a 1,200-square-foot dome, a Martian base camp model. Looking at it, it’s hard not to imagine yourself on the Red Planet, with an endless view of red rock, lava tubes, and no greenery. Intrepid reporter Kelly Dickerson visited the site for Tech Insider in January.
Six people currently live in the simulation. Their plan is to stay for a year, and they’re currently in their ninth month. Dr. Sheyna E. Gifford, one of the six participants in the simulation, keeps a record of her adventures and experiences in the simulation on a blog on Huffington Post — I’m an avid reader. She has charted her experience with low water levels, taking 2-minute showers once a week, and even living near open-ended lave tube networks, a geological feature Earth and Mars have in common.
Along with the other participants, Gifford is experiencing life completely separated from the things on Earth you and I take for granted. In their HI-SEAS environment, all of the following conditions are met 24/7:
The sun is the primary source of energy. The 10 kW solar panels charge the battery banks during the day. This means that high energy conservation would be required to survive a cloudy day. There are also two hydrogen fuel cell generators as back-up energy, programmed to kick in incase the battery levels reduce below 10%.
Depending on where the planets are in their orbit, Mars and Earth can be up to 249 million miles apart. Therefore, to recreate an accurate communication experience, there is only limited internet access, with a 20-minute delay in outgoing email, and 40-minute delay for receiving information.
There’s also a team of about 40 volunteers from around the world that engages in one-way communication with the crew 24/7. In addition to reviewing daily reports from the dome, they are equipped to assist with troubleshooting and also emergency medical assistance that can be sent from Hilo, a short drive away from the dome. The latter, I presume, would not be available on Mars.
We have evidence that frozen water melts during warmer months and intermittently flows on the surface of Mars. But it is definitely not as abundant as it is on our home planet. So, a total of 1,000 gallons is provided for a total of 6 people every two weeks for cooking, cleaning, drinking and showering. The toilets do not flush and inhabitants of the dome do laundry once a month. The tanks are re-filled every 4-5 weeks.
If all of these changes in lifestyle, in addition to being cooped up with a group of people for extended periods of time on a planet with a hostile environment, sound like an adventure to you, a HI-SEAS experience might be a good practice session.
Still, it’s tough to make the cut: Martha Lenio, who was part of an 8-month long simulation at the base, told Tech Insider that they use a rigorous selection process, including passing tests of high fitness and pitching quality scientific research, to pick their members.
Until I make the cut, I’ll keep reading Dr. Gifford’s blog.
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