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8/1/2014
09:06 AM
David Wagner
David Wagner
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Geekend: 2 Steps Closer To Mars

A successful experiment on the side of a volcano and an artificial leaf that makes oxygen have gotten us closer to sending people to Mars.

Long-time readers of this Geekend column know I'm psyched about the idea of putting a person on Mars. I think it should be one of humanity's top goals, not only because of the stunning achievement, but also because the attempt would yield technology we could use to improve life here on Earth. (Here's a list of what NASA has already done for us.) We took two steps closer to that goal this week with the end of a live experiment on what we'd need to put people on Mars for 120 days, and with a new invention that promises to provide astronauts with precious oxygen.

The live experiment, called the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (Hi-Seas) sponsored by NASA and conducted at the University of Hawaii, was a 120-day mission on the side of a volcano in Hawaii designed to test eating (among other things) during long-term space flights. A team of three men and three women lived in a simulated Mars base in an effort to see what types of living conditions and food supplies would be necessary to survive on the Red Planet for four months. The crew lived in a dome, with a little over 1,200 square feet of living space, that housed all of the living quarters as well as a kitchen, lab, and other essentials. When crew members left the dome, they had to do so in a space suit, just like they'd have to do on Mars.

That's right, they spent four months in Hawaii and never once got out to surf. They spent the whole time inside their "colony" or in a spacesuit on the side of a volcano that looks like the rocky and desolate landscape of Mars. The only communication they had with "Earth" was on calls with a 20-minute delay to simulate the delay on a real mission. They even ate freeze-dried "astronaut food" as a part of the experiment.

They couldn't simulate the lower gravity on Mars or the lack of oxygen. They also didn't simulate the nine-month trip to and from Mars, which clearly would have made the whole thing more realistic. Why skip those steps? Well, they'll probably try that on future missions, for which NASA and Hi-Seas are already looking for crews.

One of the missions under the first two Hi-Seas experiments was just to figure out how to eat for an extended time with limited supplies. Remember, every pound of food crew members take with them to Mars adds to the size of the spaceship needed, the fuel to get it there, and the size of the rocket just to get it off the planet (twice, once on Earth and again for the return trip).

Here's a look at the habitat and space cooking. They even made sushi:

No doubt future missions will be longer and include more food growth and other strategies. A series of 2011 experiments called Mars500 asked a crew to stay isolated in a spaceship-size building for 520 days to simulate the flight and return to Mars. One of the experiments literally ended in a fist fight. The second attempt showed that the crew got more sedentary and surly as the mission went on.

So the recent 120-day mission, reporting none of these sorts of problems while mixing in better food strategies (the fight on Mars500 was caused by a vodka "treat"), is a good sign. Hi-Seas placed more emphasis than previous experiments on maintaining morale and on keeping crew members active.

Of course, it takes more than sushi to keep an astronaut going for 120 or more days on Mars. The absolute first need is oxygen.

For the most part, astronauts need to have air and water delivered to them. They can make some of their own oxygen by converting water into oxygen via electrolysis. Spaceships recycle a lot of used water -- even astronaut urine and sweat are re-used -- but they still must have some delivered or they must

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David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio
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SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
8/4/2014 | 7:36:56 AM
Re: Mars
I was talking to some people about Mars and sending people that way.  Of course it turned into a discussion about other groups landing on Mars and fighting over resources.  I asked if we were going to take into account that Mars is currently inhabited by a race of robots and that they were there first.  
Michelle
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Michelle,
User Rank: Strategist
8/3/2014 | 10:58:40 PM
Cruel planet; no vacancy
I think it's still too early to go to Mars. The moon is a fluffy marshmallow compared to Mars. I think it will take much longer than anticipated to get there.
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
8/3/2014 | 9:28:38 PM
Re: Mars
It would be nice if the moon's resources such as helium-3 was mined, processed, converted into energy and then beamed back to earth. Energy or any kind of resource gain would make the moon economical -- creating a long term base on the moon. Next, the moon could be used for training and testing future mission to mars.
Gary_EL
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Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
8/3/2014 | 8:11:51 PM
Re: Mars
> -if we can't get along on Earth, why go somewhere else to fight?


I'd much rather have them fight on Mars then here on Earth. That way, innocent bystanders (like me) won't get hurt. Would you rather see a couple of dozen get killed on Mars than a couple of billion on Earth?
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
8/3/2014 | 5:16:19 PM
Re: Mars
I agree. I hope this technology becomes more developed as time progress.  I think traveling to mars is a well intentioned effort.  I do agree that I won't see it in my lifetime, may be my grand children would.
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
8/2/2014 | 7:11:44 AM
Re: Mars
Happy Geekend, earthlings! Mars is still a little bit far away from us at this moment. But it's worth of the cost and effort to develop new technologies so that one day the immigration is possible. The earth is too heavily loaded and it's hard to imagine how it will look like after 100 years!
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
8/1/2014 | 7:38:31 PM
Re: Mars
I agree about making Mars a priority. It would be worth the (enormous) cost in my opinion. 
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
8/1/2014 | 3:40:04 PM
Re: Mars
Wish this had come out before this story went to press. Long way to go on this, but extremely interesting.

Theoretically, if they can get this to work it would lower the time to Mars from months to weeks. That's a long way off, but still...

http://www.theverge.com/2014/8/1/5959637/nasa-cannae-drive-tests-have-promising-results

 
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
8/1/2014 | 1:13:35 PM
Re: Mars
We could get some good technology out of it, but I wonder aout the geopolitics of it all--if we can't get along on Earth, why go somewhere else to fight?


@jastro- An excellent question. I'm hoping this would be the kind of thing we could do together to help stop the fighting. For instance, i don't think NASA could get to MArs without Russia. But i don't think Russia could get to Mars without NASA. The European Space Agency, China, India, Japan, etc also could say the same thing. 


My dream would be a multinational effort with a multinational crew.

Of course, that's probably just a dream.
jastroff
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jastroff,
User Rank: Ninja
8/1/2014 | 12:34:33 PM
Re: Mars
@dave  -- nice Geekened article

>> I think it should be one of humanity's top goals, not only because of the stunning achievement, but also because the attempt would yield technology we could use to improve life here on Earth.


We could get some good technology out of it, but I wonder aout the geopolitics of it all--if we can't get along on Earth, why go somewhere else to fight?
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