Scientists emerge from simulated Mars housing

HONOLULU — Six scientists who were living under a dome on the slopes of a dormant Hawaii volcano for eight months to simulate life on Mars have emerged from isolation.

The crew stepped outside the dome that’s 8,000 feet up the slopes of Mauna Loa to feel fresh air on their skin Saturday. It was the first time they left without donning a spacesuit.

The scientists are part of a human performance study funded by NASA that tracked how they worked together as a team. They have been monitored by surveillance cameras, body-movement trackers and electronic surveys.

Crew member Jocelyn Dunn said it was awesome to feel the sensation of wind on her skin.

“When we first walked out the door, it was scary not to have a suit on,” said Dunn, 27, a doctoral candidate at Purdue University. “We’ve been pretending for so long.”

The dome’s volcanic location, silence and its simulated airlock seal provided an atmosphere similar to space. Looking out the dome’s porthole windows, all the scientists could see were lava fields and mountains, said University of Hawaii professor Kim Binsted, principal investigator for the study.

Tracking the crew members’ emotions and performance in the isolated environment could help ground crews during future missions to determine if a crew member is becoming depressed or if the team is having communication problems.

“Astronauts are very stoic people, very level-headed, and there’s a certain hesitancy to report problems,” Binsted said. “So this is a way for people on the ground to detect cohesion-related problems before they become a real issue.”

Spending eight months in a confined space with six people had its challenges, but crew members relieved stress doing team workouts and yoga. They were able to use a solar-powered treadmill and stationary bike, but only in the afternoons on sunny days.

“When you’re having a good day, it’s fine. It’s fun. You have friends around to share in the enjoyment of a good day,” Dunn said. “But if you have a bad day, it’s really tough to be in a confined environment. You can’t get out and go for a walk … it’s constantly witnessed by everyone.”

The hardest part was being far away from family and missing events like her sister’s wedding, for which she delivered a toast via video, Dunn said. “I’m glad I was able to be there in that way, but … I just always dreamed of being there to help,” she said.

The first thing crew members did when they emerged from the dome was to chow down on foods they’ve been craving — juicy watermelon, deviled eggs, peaches and croissants, a step up from the freeze-dried chili they had been eating.

Next on Dunn’s list: going for a swim. Showers in the isolated environment were limited to six minutes per week, she said.

“To be able to just submerge myself in water for as long as I want, to feel the sun, will be amazing,” Dunn said. “I feel like a ghost.”

Talk to us

More in Local News

Voyager Middle School.
Shooting threat at Mukilteo schools was a joke, student says

Four threats of violence in 48 hours were reported at Snohomish County schools in the wake of a shooting at a Michigan high school.

Prosecuting attorney, Taryn Jones gives the state's opening statement to start the trial of Ryan Leenders for first-degree murder Friday morning at the Snohomish County Superior Courthouse on December 3, 2021. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Trial opens for Everett man charged with killing party guest

A defense attorney claimed Ryan Leenders mistook a vape pen for a gun when he shot William Harper, who was not armed.

Girl, 1, dies from gunshot wound near Granite Falls

Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office deputies were investigating the weapons assault report Saturday night.

State officials confirm first 3 cases of omicron variant

The cases were found in Thurston, Pierce and King counties, according to the state Department of Health.

Police: Man kills himself on I-5 on-ramp, leading to closure

Marysville police were making a traffic stop when the man pulled over near 88th Street NE, got out and fired a gun.

Man dies in 140-foot fall from Arlington cellphone tower

The man, in his 30s, fell about just after 1:30 p.m. Saturday while working.

Everett man, 83, dies in hit-and-run

Detectives are seeking public assistance to find the driver whose vehicle struck Soong H. Park on Tuesday night.

Approved Legislative District Map (Washington State Redistricting Commission)
State Supreme Court declines to draw new redistricting plan

Many Snohomish County voters are now a big step closer to having new representation in the state Legislature.

‘Prolonged neglect’: Darrington woman charged with starving horses

After a months-long investigation, the woman is accused of neglecting her animals.

Most Read