Some people will do anything to avoid the new administration
The Short Version
Six people entered a dome on top of the most active volcano in Hawaii and won’t come out for eight months as part of a NASA-sponsored study of the effects of living in an environment similar to that found on the planet Mars. Scientists are hoping that the results of this study will help them to prepare for eventually putting people on the red planet sometime in the 2030s. One of the “perks” to being in the dome is complete isolation from news media.
A Few More Details
While many of us might like to escape today’s inauguration of the new president, six people found a very extreme way of doing so by volunteering for an eight-month study that places them in a dome that sits on top of the most active volcano in Hawaii. That sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
Actually, this isn’t a political statement but rather a scientific study. That the study started yesterday is purely coincidental. This was planned long before the election. No one really looked at the calendar.
The study, which is sponsored largely by NASA, is designed to take a look at what might happen, physically and psychologically, to people confined in an atmosphere similar to what would be found on the planet Mars. Of course, there’s a lot of difference between Earth and Mars, especially in regards to gravity. Being on top of an active volcano is about as close as scientists could come to replicating the martian environment. Anyone who has ever been on top of a volcano understands just how unfriendly and unforgiving the terrain can be.
The six people who entered the dome, four men and two women, won’t have a lot of space and won’t have much in the way of food choice. Their diets will consist mostly of dried food with the occasional treat of —wait for it—Spam. Sounds thrilling, doesn’t it? I’m anticipating some dramatic weight loss on the part of the participants. Yet, it is still likely better than the environment in Washington, D.C. at the moment.
The University of Hawaii operates the dome, called Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, or HI-SEAS, and NASA has dedicated more than $2 million to this stage of the project. There are other martian simulations being operated in different places in the world, but this one is special because the terrain so closely resembles what Mars would actually offer. This allows scientists to study not only how the crew interacts inside the dome, but how well they perform simple activities such as using a robot to fetch packages left for them.
Now, don’t go getting the idea that this is all fun and games. The dome has a small kitchen, a lab, and very small sleeping accommodations, such as what might be found in a martian space station. The dome is not airtight, but when members of the crew go outside, they have to wear space suits to simulate the limited movement. They will have no physical contact with the outside world. Even their limited digital communication with the support crew has a 20-minute delay, the amount of time it would take an email message from Mars to reach Earth. On a good day.
And what happens if the volcano decides to get nasty while they’re there? There are extraction plans in place, NASA says. However, there’s no word as to whether those plans include Matt Damon.
Haven’t We Done Domes Before?
Yes, we’ve stuck people in numerous domes before. There have been two previous studies for Mars deployment, one lasting a year and the other eight months. And there will likely be more studies after this as researchers attempt to improve the experience based on what they’ve learned from previous studies.
What they’re hoping to avoid is the complete meltdown that occurred back in the 90s with Biodome 2, an experiment in Arizona that went totally out of control. That dome was air tight and attempted to replicate multiple environments. Carbon dioxide levels were out of control, plants and animals were dying, and the participants were at the point of not even speaking with each other by the time they left the dome.
Of course, even that failure taught us a lot of lessons that factor into this current study. Everyone is hopeful that the test will go well and that participants won’t have too much culture shock when they emerge in eight months.
Had we known the election was going to end like this, a lot more people would have likely volunteered, don’t you think?