One of the goals for HI-SEAS is exploring how to effectively promote crew autonomy. With a mission to Mars, the wide distance makes communication difficult. Depending on the current positions of Mars and Earth in their orbits, information packets from Earth take between 10-25 minutes to reach Mars. Therefore, a crew on Mars should be able to operate autonomously, rather than waiting for orders from mission control. During the HI-SEAS mission, instead of "Mission Control," we have a "Mission Support" team.
(Illustration by NASA)
The only communication we can have with the outside world, including mission support, is through email on a NASA network that is delayed 20 minutes to simulate the distance from Earth. Our cell phone services have been turned off and our internet access is limited to static web pages. There will be no chatting or webcam conversations. I am still able to post to social media through my delayed email, but I cannot participate fully, since newsfeeds are dynamic and infeasible over the wide distance to Mars.
Of course, this is a simulation, so if emergencies arise, then we do have an emergency phone to call for help. In fact, we are monitoring a potential emergency situation as Tropical Storm Ana is making her way to the Hawaiian islands. During training, we practiced evacuations and learned about the weather conditions that our vinyl dome is able to withstand. If the winds get too strong, then we will hunker down in the supply container until the storm passes. The training wheels are coming off as our new reality is setting in!