Much of your week has likely been dominated by the phrase “fake news,” so we here at Inverse would like to help by directing your attention instead to real missions about “fake Mars,” which is better. As you read this, half a dozen scientists and engineers are preparing for a NASA-funded mission to Hawaii, which for the next eight months they are going to pretend is Mars.
This Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) mission is its fifth. Mission V, as it’s officially known, will begin January 19 around 3:30 p.m. local time. That’s the moment the six-member crew will enter the complete isolation of fake Mars and begin what we can only imagine to be a hell of a social experiment in addition to a technical and geological one. A statement from the University of Hawaii (which refers to the crew as “astronaut-like,” which I just think is fun) kind of alludes to this:
“The primary behavioral research includes a shared social behavioral task for team building, continuous monitoring of face-to-face interactions with sociometric badges, a virtual reality team-based collaborative exercise to predict individual and team behavioral health and performance and multiple stress, cognitive countermeasure and monitoring studies.”
The crew will perform field work and various other exploration tasks, but the purpose of the mission is really for them to acclimate to the conditions and work out any kinks in communication, living arrangements, and so forth.
HI-SEAS specializes in these kinds of extended missions that simulate conditions deep-space astronauts need to get used to. Having to wear full-on space suits every time they step outside the dome; dealing with a 20-minute delay on every message received or sent; eating those weird dehydrated foods, which were fun when you got them on like your sixth-grade field trip to a NASA lab but probably not ideal to live on.
In addition to NASA, entities like the European Space Agency have also facilitated mock space missions. Hawaii is a popular destination because its harsh volcanic topography makes a pretty good proxy for what astronauts might expect to encounter on the Red Planet — in August, NASA welcomed “home” six astronauts that had been living in a sealed dome in Mauna Loa for a year.