> > > 8-month mission on "Mars": On the transition to dome life

Monday, November 10, 2014

On the transition to dome life

As a crew, we're often asked how we prepared for this mission, and my answer to this question has a glaring contradiction. To prepare for life as a simulated astronaut, I worked on my physical fitness, while also eating as much pizza and sushi as I could find! I was worried that I would not like the food on “Mars.” I thought I would have trouble adjusting to the 2-min showers. I predicted that I might feel cramped, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to have this dome life focused on research and teamwork.

HI-SEAS habitat on Mauna Loa, there's no place like the dome!

Now that 25 days have just flown by, I’m thinking the transition back to “Earth” might be harder than our transition to “Mars.” It’s a challenging, busy schedule here, but it's worth every minute, since we are doing stuff I love: research, fitness, satisfying meals, and teamwork. I’m a fourth-year PhD student, so I’ve been immersed in research environments for a while now. The major difference is that the nature of my prior graduate student life was quite solitary. Learning processes are satisfying and fun on their own, but now I realize how much I've missed working together as part of a team.

Here, I'm interacting with crew members to accomplish our mission goals and to maintain a healthy team chemistry, while also gaining confidence in applied engineering and insights for proposing novel research. This past week, we worked on the first Geology task of the mission. Our task was to estimate the volume of a nearby ridge-like feature that is composed of a type of lava called spatter, which is a possible insulating material for building surface shelters on Mars. So, the question was basically how much spatter is deposited in this geological feature.

An aerial photograph of the geological feature 

We divided the task into two separate EVAs. On Monday, Sophie and Allen suited up and headed out with the goal of determining the location of the ridge-like feature relative to the habitat and gathering information about where to start measuring and about the difficulty of exploring the terrain. From this information, we decided to tackle measurements with a three-person crew. On Tuesday, Martha, Neil, and I went out to track the feature and completed the longest EVA we’ve had so far. It’s hot and sweaty in those suits, but we kept going up and down the slopes of the 575-meter ridge to measure angles, input GPS waypoints, and to wave hand signals when radio communication failed.

Steep slope of the ridge with loose surface rocks, tread lightly...

At times, it felt as though I was skiing, when on the way down rocks would start slipping and rolling away. If it was not too steep, sometimes I would decide to just slide along with the lava rocks, in my clumsy hazmat suit holding a trekking pole! My golf experience also came in handy as I was pacing yardages to verify GPS calculations. The 1-yard stride I have ingrained on manicured golf course fairways still ended up being quite accurate on the rough terrain of a lava field.

Suited up for hiking (or skiing) through the lava field.. and staying hydrated!

What a great day, experiencing awe and wonder as if we really were exploring another planet! We faced challenges, stayed positive, and pulled together to successfully complete the task (estimated 155,500 cubic meters of spatter).


  1. If you haven't already, and if you have a way to get it while there, read "The Martian" by Andy Weir. Excellent book that is very related to what you're experiencing now!

    1. Also (same poster as above), thank you for blogging this! I look forward to each update!

  2. Only you could look so COOL all suited up for taking on the lava field! Go team for staying positive and being successful in the task!! Bet you were glad to be "outside" for a bit! Go Team HISEAS! Tammy L

  3. Love the blog! So happy things are going well for you. It's funny I just told an applicant to our program last Wednesday that earning a PhD is a solitary process and that's the most difficult part in my opinion. Interesting how we are arriving at the same conclusion. Love the pictures! Can't wait to read the next one!--Meliss

  4. Wow this is so cool! I love this! You guys are really doing some real science out there! More people should know! Thanks for sharing!!!

  5. How long can you guys go out there until your air runs out?

  6. One word from Sebring, AWSOME

  7. Physical fitness is really matter .Without doing exercises you never keep your body balance.The people who are doing wok regularly and take some exercise is living more fit than who passing lazy time.By the way you rise a very important issue with writing very good physio tips. -Thanks