New missions underway at HI-SEAS’s on Mauna Loa

Researchers are headed to the moon and beyond without leaving the Big Island.

New missions are underway at the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation habitat, which is located about 8,200 feet above sea level on the slopes of Mauna Loa.

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On Jan. 4, HI-SEAS’s first all-female crew embarked on a Mars mission — Sensoria, an initiative of Analogs LLC — at the habitat, which will be immediately followed by a third mission by EuroMoonMars, International MoonBase Alliance and HI-SEAS on Jan. 18.

“Basically we’ve started a series of missions happening at HI-SEAS, (and) some are back-to-back. Even in November and December, we had several missions back-to-back,” said HI-SEAS Director Michaela Musilova, a visiting researcher at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

With back-to-back missions, Musilova said the first crew gets training and starts its mission, and then the next group rotates in “like they would on the International Space Station.”

“Then they come in, and the outgoing crew trains the incoming crew on everything they’ve learned on how the habitat works.”

Two back-to-back missions began late last year, the first of which was led by Canadian researchers testing devices to measure cognitive fatigue, said Musilova, who was the commander on that endeavor.

Crew members wore EEG devices through the mission and tracked changes in memory, decision making, learning, attention and perception, she said.

“At the end of the mission, (it was) found they could indeed measure a very clear trend of fatigue on every crew member’s brain.”

That was followed by the second EuroMoonMars-International MoonBase Alliance-HI-SEAS mission, which was conducted Dec. 8-22, 2019.

Musilova will be the commander of the third and fourth EuroMoonMars missions.

During the third mission starting Jan. 18, six crew members will focus on different fields of investigation, including geology, robotics, nutrition, crew psychology and cultural aspects.

It will be the first HI-SEAS mission for crew member Kyla Edison, a geology and material science technician at the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems.

Edison, who said she’s both excited and nervous about the upcoming experience, said her research with PISCES aligns with missions done at HI-SEAS and she was invited to join.

She will sample lava flows that surround the habitat and characterize the rocks to determine the minerals and crystals they are made of.

“And then I’ll be creating materials while I’m up there,” Edison said.

Using a miniature kiln, Edison said she will bake the samples to see “if the rocks up there will turn into cohesive materials or they won’t sinter at all,” and whether the altitude will affect the sintering process.

Edison said she wants to segue her research into “vacuum sintering.”

While doing that work in space would be a different process, this mission will offer “just a very small test trying to give me a very small insight into how vacuum sintering would work and if I could make the same material here, on the moon or Mars.”

Located at the site of a former quarry, the dome habitat was previously used by HI-SEAS to test group cohesion and personality characteristics on long-term missions, such as to Mars.

Musilova said there was interest for shorter missions to test rovers and instruments, which would only need a couple of weeks.

The EuroMoonMars missions, for example, are moon simulations, but the research done will have implications for both moon and Mars explorations.

The shorter missions, too, are simulating more practical aspects of what can likely be expected during the first moon missions, Musilova said.

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Beginning in April, however, the HI-SEAS habitat will host a series of missions that will run longer because Musilova said the focus will turn to the psychological aspects of living on the moon.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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