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Russia to take part in new Mars simulation mission

The mission will be launched in January 2018
Dome called Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, located 8,200 feet above sea level on Mauna Loa on the island of Hawaii University of Hawaii via AP
Dome called Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, located 8,200 feet above sea level on Mauna Loa on the island of Hawaii
© University of Hawaii via AP

WASHINGTON, March 21. /TASS/. The University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) plans to launch the next Mars simulation mission in less than a year, Russians are expected to participate, HI-SEAS principal investigator and UH Manoa Professor Kim Binsted said in an interview with TASS.

According to her, the mission will be launched in January 2018. The selected crew will enter an isolated dome atop of the Mauna Loa volcano which is slightly reminiscent of the Mars landscape. This is going to be the sixth stage of the NASA-funded project developed by the University of Hawaii.

Cooperation with Russia

Binsted plans to spend the next summer in Russia in accordance with the Fulbright Scholar Program, and work with the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medical and Biological Problems (IMBP). She intends to cooperate with "the team at the IMBP who do the psychology-related research."

According to her, work is in progress on a memo of understanding. Binsted added that "it will be somewhere between two and six studies to do with crew composition, crew cohesion, resilience and performance." However, no one from IMBP is expected to travel to the site. "It will be remote work, it’s a no-cost agreement. Now, we are hoping actually to get a Russian crew member next time. That will, of course, depend on our selection process. But, aside from that, they wouldn’t be on site," Binsted elaborated.

When asked if cooperation with Russian scientists meant an acknowledgement of their high professionalism, Binsted answered in the affirmative saying that "they also have a great deal of expertise in analog studies (that is, using an environment on Earth that is "space like" in some way to advance space research)." "In particular, they ran the MARS-500 mission, which has some similarities (and of course differences) with HI-SEAS missions," she added.

She also said that "on a real Mars mission there would almost certainly be at least one Russian crew member." 

Binsted noted that "we think that international crew is more realistic. That’s the main motivation." However, speaking about the upcoming HI-SEAS mission 6, she said that "because of our current studies about crew composition, we have quite a formal process. So, you know, me saying I hope there's a Russian crew member, doesn't necessarily mean there will be one. That just depends on how the process works out."

No one wants to leave

Binsted went on to say that the crew of the current eight-month Mission V, which was launched in a dome atop Mauna Loa on the island of Hawai’i in January 2017, "is still doing very well." "No one is showing any signs of wanting to leave. I’m very proud of them," she added.

When asked to describe the crew members’ regular day, she said that "they are doing the research that we’re funding them to be there for, so they fill in questionnaires, they do computerized testing, they wear heart monitors and so on throughout the day and that’s one piece of it." "Another piece is of course habitat maintenance and chores. They keep it clean, they cook meals, they maintain the systems," the scientist added. According to her, "another piece of what they do is they go out on EVAs - NASA’s language for going outside. They’ll put on their space suits, they'll go outside and they do that for a bunch of reasons, for example to maintain equipment outside but also to do geological fieldwork." "We assign them geological field tasks, they go outside to carry them out. Another thing they spend time doing is they do their own personal research projects. Each of them has something that they’re working on during the mission, for example one of the current crew members is using a piece of NASA equipment called Veggie to grow vegetables in habitat and also to test a piece of equipment," Binsted said.

She did not hide the fact that the crew members were facing some psychological difficulties. "On the crews in general - there is inevitably some kind of conflict, interpersonal conflict in the crew. It is rooted in all sorts of things," she said. "Sometimes it is a personality clash, sometimes it’s leadership and followership issues. Sometimes it’s tensions brought on by problems back at home. There’s all sorts of feeds for that conflict. Pretty much inevitably there is something," the scientist noted.

"I always think of the opening line of Anna Karenina when talking about conflicts in the crew - how happy families all being alike. And really the source of conflict in these cruises is kind of different every time, it’s very hard to predict what it’s going to be. But the ways in which they get along with each other and work well are all very similar," Binsted concluded.