No Mars Yet, But Earthly Simulations Aplenty

Mars advocates may not agree on how to get to Mars, or even whether or not to come back, but one thing apparently everyone shares in common is an affinity for Mars simulations.

Aloha Mars! Image Credit: Sian Proctor and University of Hawaii at Manoa

Aloha Mars!
Image Credit: Sian Proctor and University of Hawaii at Manoa

Today marks the first day of an eight month long Mars habitat simulation study being held in conjunction with the University of Hawaii at Manoa, on the slopes of Mauna Loa volcano.  The six participants will live in a 36 foot wide double decked habitat mostly sealed from the outside world. This is the second mission to be conducted as part of the somewhat confusingly named HI-SEAS project, which is not a cruel jest aimed at the very land locked occupants inside, but instead an acronym for Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation. National Geographic has an interview with the team leader Martha Lenio.

Meanwhile, Mars One, which is no doubt still feeling the effects of an MIT study which concluded its participants might perish of oxygen deprivation 68 into a real mission, describes in its October newsletter a plan to launch a series of Mars colony simulations at different locations. It is called Simulation Outpost Alpha, and would follow the basic layout of six connected habitats described in the Mars One plan, but with two rigid structures taking the place of inflatable segments for early versions. The project web page is here, but like the Mars One plan itself, is a little short on details at this point.

Layout  Credit : Mars One

Credit : Mars One

Finally, the Mars Society is also gearing up for what may be one of its most demanding simulations yet, a year long stay at the Flashiline Mars Arctic Research Station at Devon Island in the Canadian high Arctic. Unlike other simulations, the plan, named MA365 calls for the “crew” to conduct frequent and intensive external sorties in one of the most Mars like environments on Earth.

MA365 Mission Patch Credit: The Mars Society

MA365 Mission Patch
Credit: The Mars Society

How will the crew members be chosen? By using another Mars simulation, the somewhat more accessible Mars Society Research Station. According to a recent update on the Mars Society website. “Twenty one finalists have been selected for possible participation in the Mars Society’s Mars Arctic 365 (MA365) mission. These finalists have been divided into three crews of seven persons each and will be sent to the Mars Society’s Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in southern Utah for further training and to gain data for the remaining selection process that will lead to the choice of the final six-person crew to perform the MA365 mission (the final crews have been enlarged from six to seven to allow for the selection of alternates).”

FMARS Credit : The Mars Society

Credit : The Mars Society


Whether these, or any near term Mars simulations will have an impact on a future Mars mission is an open question. Sadly, the answer could very well be no.  Nevertheless, given the effort involved, one would hope that at some future point, when a viable transportation architecture is coming together, mission planners at least look back towards the work of so many people who were looking forward.

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