A group of six brave "space" explorers have emerged from a year-long experiment living on a simulated Mars colony in a rugged, remote region of Hawaii.
As portrayed by Matt Damon in Ridley Scott's epic, The Martian, the three women and three men lived in a dome habitat almost entirely self sufficient with no fresh air or fresh food, and had to wear spacesuits and oxygen tanks anytime they emerged from the enclosed environment.
All communications between the team and the outside world was delayed 20 minutes to mimic the frustrating experience in deep space. They each had a sleeping cot and a desk in their rooms in the dome, and provisions included such foods as powdered cheese and canned tuna.
Some of the biggest challenges faced by the team were interacting with such a small number of people for so long, rationing limited resources and a plumbing malfunction that left them bathing with buckets for weeks.
"The researchers are looking forward to getting in the ocean and eating fresh produce," said Kim Binsted, spokeswoman for the experiment.
They were apparently disappointed not to feel the sun on their faces their first moment outside the dome. One could be heard complaining, "we were hoping for some sun" after realising they were unleashed on an overcast day, NBC News reported.
The simulation on the bare, rocky slopes of Mauna Loa was operated by NASA's HI-SEAS program (Hawaii Space Exploration Analogue and Simulation) based out of the University of Hawaii.
The point of the research was to examine how humans adapt for a long period of time in an enclosed, isolated space particularly regarding problem solving, resource sustainability and personal relationships. Any mission to Mars is expected to take from one to three years.
"Once again, I'll be able to walk down the street," noted chief medical and safety officer (and mission journalist) Sheyna Gifford, in her blog entry in Live from Mars. "To watch a cat curl up in a window; see a dog lying in the sun with such stillness that you wonder if he's still alive — and then he bolts upright at the sound of a passing care or twitches an ear, and you laugh at yourself for wondering.
"I'll be able to see the stars without cleaning my face-plate twice (once inside and once out). I'll be able to answer the phone: Hello? Hello! You do these things everyday without thinking about them. It's been 366 days since I answered a phone."
The team consisted of a French astrobiologist, a German science officer and three other Americans besides Gifford: the crew commander, chief engineering officer and an architect.
It was the fourth and longest Hi-SEAS mission to date. The Russians have conducted a similar 520-day experiment.
HI-SEAS is currently seeking participants for its next two isolation missions, which will send teams to the mock Mars habitat in 2017 and 2018 for eight months at a time.