Mon, Jun 15, 2015 - Page 7 News List

Scientists end isolation on Hawaiian volcano slope

TEAMWORK:Pretending to be living on another planet, the six spent eight months living in a remote dome and wearing a space suit whenever they ventured outdoors

AP, HONOLULU

In a photograph provided by the University of Hawaii at Manoa HI-SEAS Human Factors Performance Study, six scientists on Saturday exit a dome that they lived in on the slopes of dormant volcano Mauna Loa near Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Photo: AP

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

The crew stepped outside the dome 2,400m up the slopes of Mauna Loa to feel fresh air on their skin on Saturday. It was the first time they left without donning a space suit.

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 have been pretending for so long.”

The dome’s volcanic location, silence and its simulated airlock seal provided an atmosphere similar to space.

Looking out through 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 whether a crew member is becoming depressed or whether the team is having communication problems.

“Astronauts are very stoic people, very level-headed, and there is 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 are having a good day its fine, it is fun. You have friends around to share in the enjoyment of a good day,” Dunn said. “[However,] if you have a bad day, it is really tough to be in a confined environment. You cannot get out and go for a walk... It is 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 am 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 that they had been craving — juicy watermelon, deviled eggs, peaches and croissants, which was 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.”

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