When humans build their first bases and habitats on other worlds, they face dangers and challenges unlike those faced by astronauts who lived before them. To prepare for such tests, scientists descend deep underground into lava tubes in Hawaii that mimic conditions in rocky alien worlds.
There, mission crew members navigate rugged volcanic terrain and withstand the physical constraints associated with conducting research in hostile environments. Wearing bulky suits like those needed to research aliens, scientists study the geology and organisms found in lava tunnels and caves in Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Islands. volcano…
This unique research station in Mauna Loa is operated by the International Moon Base Alliance (IMBA), an association working to create the first international Moon base, according to IMBA website… It is part of the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (Hi-SEAS) program, which organizes analog missions for astronaut scientists to simulate life on Mars and the Moon. Hi-SEAS Habitat Director Mikaela Musilova spoke about such missions in her speech on March 19. presentation at the 52nd Annual Moon and Planet Research Conference (LPSC), which took place almost this year due to COVID-19.
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During Hi-SEAS missions, teams of no more than six crew members live in a lava dome habitat for weeks or months in a row. Musilova told Live Science that while everyone has a role to play – such as commander, operations officer, crew engineer, and science communicator – tasks are often assigned to the crew as needed.
“We usually have several crew members who can perform similar tasks, and if someone is injured or tired, there is always someone who can replace him,” she explained.
Resources such as food, water and energy are very limited and therefore tightly controlled – as would be the case on the Moon or Mars – and crew members only leave their habitat after donning protective suits, helmets and life support systems. Analog astronauts who are part of the Mauna Loa lava tube network carry out their research in suits, collecting important data about the geology of the lava tubes and ecosystems. Their work also sheds light on the difficulties of conducting scientific research in extreme conditions, according to the LPSC presentation. (Chelsea Gohd, reporter for partner site Live Science Space.com, participated in a simulated mission to Mars at Hi-SEAS in November 2020 and you can read her mission updates. here.)
“Since 2018, I have conducted almost 30 analog missions there,” said Musilova, who is also an astrobiologist and crew commander for Hi-SEAS missions. “We have to prepare for everything in as much detail as possible, because so many things can go wrong in space – even the smallest things can affect the mission and cost someone their life,” she said.
Lava tubes on the Moon and Mars are considered promising places for detecting signs of extraterrestrial life, and studying Mauna Loa’s lava tubes may provide clues about extremophiles – organisms that thrive in extreme conditions – on other worlds. To this end, Hi-SEAS is partnering with NASA to study the Mauna Loa extremophiles that create deposits in lava tubes.
Sampling and studying these organisms and their byproducts could show how various factors influence the behavior and survival of extremophiles in lava tube systems around the world. solar system, she explained.
But another important consideration when looking for life on the Moon and Mars will be the physical damage from this work to human astronauts. Microbiological specimens are easily contaminated, and complex tasks become much more difficult when carrying bulky gear, according to the report.
“Even without an analog spacesuit, it can take hours to collect certain samples if you try to do it carefully,” Musilova told Live Science. “Now you add a spacesuit. It limits your movement and vision – you can only tilt your head or turn it strongly from behind the helmet. The life support system is attached to your helmet from your backpack. So you are very limited in what you can do.”
“The more we can prepare on Earth for what we plan to do in space, the better,” Musilova said.
Originally published on Live Science.