August 29, 2015 – Denver resident Andrzej Stewart and his five crewmates said their final goodbyes to the outside world yesterday as they entered an isolated habitat for twelve months. The six crew members will share living space in a solar-powered dome in Hawaii as they simulate a year on Mars. It’s the latest mission of the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS), led by the University of Hawai’i at Manoa and funded by the NASA Human Research Program.
If a year in Hawaii sounds glamorous, consider that the dome is located near a barren volcano and that crew members will need to wear spacesuits whenever they venture outside. Conditions will closely mimic the experience that astronauts would have on a real planetary mission – with a limited supply of fresh food, no fresh air, and modest supplies. Also part of the astronaut experience is having to leave family and friends behind for the duration of the mission.
“My wife also wants to be an astronaut, so she has been very understanding. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Stewart.
The crew will be able to watch TV shows and receive news on a delayed schedule, but they’ll be cut off from access to social media to ensure they don’t have access to real-time communication with anyone outside of the habitat.
In such a controlled environment, HI-SEAS provides an opportunity to study the energy, water and consumption needs of astronauts on Mars, but more importantly, the social and psychological effects of living in a closed habitat with limited privacy.
Crew members will be monitored using cameras, body movement trackers, electronic surveys, and other methods. UH Manoa researchers and their collaborators will gather data on a wide range of cognitive, social and emotional factors that could impact team performance.
“The longer each mission becomes, the better we can understand the risks of space travel,” said Kim Binsted, HI-SEAS principal investigator and UH Manoa professor from the Department of Information and Computer Sciences. “We hope this upcoming mission will build on our current understanding of the social and psychological factors involved in long duration space exploration and give NASA solid data on how best to select and support a flight crew that will work cohesively as a team in space.”
Three shorter HI-SEAS missions have been completed, but HI-SEAS IV is the longest mission to date and the first full-year study of its kind to be sponsored by NASA.
For this mission, Stewart will serve as the chief engineer, responsible for maintaining electrical systems and computer networks, as well as managing a limited water supply. He notes that crew members will conduct scientific, physical and psychological research tasks, but will also be responsible for “housekeeping” items such as cleaning the habitat, maintaining energy and water supplies, working out, making meals, and laundering clothes.
Until recently, Stewart worked in the Mission Support Area (MSA) for Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Colorado, where he’s played a role in several planetary missions.
“I’m thankful for my time at Lockheed. There aren’t many places where I would have been able to do the things I’ve done in my career,” Stewart said. “It’s been a pleasure working in the MSA. I’ve been able to get a lot of experience exploring Mars and the solar system through the operations of spacecraft such as MRO, MAVEN and Juno, and the Spitzer Space Telescope.”
Stewart knows that NASA look for individuals with long deployment experience when they make astronaut selections. Military experience, remote research camps and missions such as HI-SEAS are all good preparation for the demands of astronaut life and he’s excited about this opportunity and his chance to impact the future of human space exploration.
“If I can help contribute to making [deep space] journeys easier for our future astronauts, I’m happy to be a part of it,” Stewart said. “For me, it’s one step closer to being a real astronaut.”
Follow Stewart’s HI-SEAS adventure on his blog, which he’ll be updating throughout the year.
2015-2016 HI-SEAS Crew Members
Sheyna Gifford has worked on research projects in astrophysics, neuroscience and psychology and is a contributor to NASA educational websites, a medical writer and an advocate of STEM education. Her previous work includes working on the HESSI satellite at Space Science Laboratories. She holds a bachelor of science in neuroscience and english, a master of clinical laboratory science and biotechnology, a master of science in journalism, a doctor of medicine and is currently earning a master of business administration.
Tristan Bassingthwaighte is currently a doctor of architecture candidate at UH Mānoa. He is in the final stage of completing his master’s degree in architecture from Tongji University in Shanghai, where he studied abroad for a year looking at human habitation in extreme environments. His doctoral work will involve designing a next generation conceptual Mars habitat.
Carmel Johnston is a soil scientist from Whitefish, Montana. Her previous research focused on the effects of permafrost thaw on trace gas emissions in peatlands. Her interest in global food production and sustainability lead her to HI-SEAS to research food production in Mars simulation. She has a bachelor of science in soil and water science and a master in science in land resources and environmental sciences from Montana State University.
Andrzej Stewart is an ardent light aircraft pilot and previously worked at Lockheed Martin as an interplanetary flight controller. He’s worked on console for the Spitzer Space Telescope, Mars Odyssey, MRO, MAVEN, Juno and GRAIL. Recently, he served as the flight engineer for the sixth mission of NASA’s Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA), simulating a two-week journey to asteroid 1620 Geographos. He earned a bachelor of science in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas at Austin in 2005 and an SM in aeronautics and astronautics from MIT in 2007.
Cyprien Verseux is a doctorate student at the University of Rome. He is an astrobiologist working on the search for life beyond Earth and is also an expert in biological life support systems for Mars exploration. Part of his research aims at making human outposts on Mars as independent as possible of Earth, by using living organisms to process Mars’ resources into products needed for human consumption.
Christiane Heinicke is a German physicist and engineer. Most recently she has worked on sea ice and has also gained experience working with polar lights, metal melts and simulations of the Earth’s mantle. She received her bachelor of science in applied physics from the Ilmenau University of Technology in Germany and her master of science in geophysics from Uppsala University in Sweden.