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Hawaii’s Mars Simulations Are Canceled

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© Earth Observatory / NASA

By Marina Koren, The Atlantic

For the last five years, a small Mars colony thrived in Hawaii, many miles away from civilization.

The Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, or HI-SEAS, was carried out in a small white dome nestled along the slope of a massive volcano called Mauna Loa. The habitat usually housed six people at a time, for as long as eight months. They prepared freeze-dried meals, took 30-second showers to conserve water, and wore space suits every time they left the dome. To replicate the communication gap between Earth and Mars, they waited 20 minutes for their emails to reach their family members, and another 20 to hear back. Sometimes, as they drifted off to sleep, with nothing but silence in their ears, they really believed they were on Mars.In February of this year, something went wrong. The latest and sixth mission was just four days in when one of the crew members was carried out on a stretcher and taken to a hospital, an Atlantic investigation revealed in June. There had been a power outage in the habitat, and some troubleshooting ended with one of the residents sustaining an electric shock. The rest of the crew was evacuated, too. There was some discussion of returning—the injured person was treated and released in the same day—but another crew member felt the conditions weren’t safe enough and decided to withdraw. The Mars simulation couldn’t continue with a crew as small as three, and the entire program was put on hold.
But the habitat on Mauna Loa was not abandoned. While officials at the University of Hawaii and NASA investigated the incident, the wealthy Dutch entrepreneur who built the habitat was thinking about how the dome could be put to use.

Henk Rogers made his money designing computer games, but he is passionate about space exploration, and particularly the idea of constructing human settlements on other worlds. Life on Earth, just like his computers, needs a backup, he has said. It’s why he agreed to build the habitat, and why, when the latest Mars simulation came to an abrupt end, he saw an opportunity.

Under Rogers’s direction and funding, the HI-SEAS habitat will reopen this year—not as a Mars simulation, but a moon one.

“It’s my habitat, for chrissakes,” Rogers told me in a recent interview. “I don’t want to see it sitting there empty and do nothing.”

Rogers has long wanted to build another habitat on Mauna Loa specifically for moon simulations. For him, a moon colony is the next logical step in human space exploration, and a necessary milestone before a Mars mission.

“I describe it like this: You’ve just invented a canoe and you’re sitting on Maui and you’re looking at Lanai, which is right next door, and someone says, hey, let’s row to England,” he said. “I’m saying let’s row to Lanai first. Let’s learn how to live on the moon before we start trying to live on Mars.”

Over the summer, as NASA officials deliberated whether to maintain funding for the HI-SEAS program, Rogers and a small team got to work refurbishing the habitat. They installed new floors and furniture and upgraded the computer systems. They spruced up the interior design to make the habitat look more “space-y.” They replaced the aging spacesuits with sleek new versions.

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Technology - U.S. Daily News: Hawaii’s Mars Simulations Are Canceled
Hawaii’s Mars Simulations Are Canceled
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