Four men and two women were quarantined on a vast plain below the summit of the Big Island’s Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano. They ate mostly freeze-dried or canned food and some vegetables they grew during the eight months in isolation. They grew carrots, potatoes, peppers, pak choy and parsley. When communicating with the outside world, they had to deal with the 20-minute delay that astronauts on Mars would experience as well. This research project studied how groups of interplanetary travelers would work together on long-term missions.
“We’ve learned, for one thing, that conflict, even in the best of teams, is going to arise,” said Kim Binsted, the project’s lead investigator, after the experiment. To manage the stress, the team used virtual reality devices to take them away to a tropical beach or other familiar landscapes The US space agency will use data the crew produced to select individuals and groups with the right mix of traits to best cope with the stress, isolation and danger on the red planet. The most important conclusion of the experiment was “long-term space travel is absolutely possible.”