CLOSE
NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

5 Challenges Scientists Working on Mars Will Face

NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

As space agencies begin planning for the future missions that will take human explorers to Mars, volunteer researchers are testing out what working in deep-space conditions will be like by living in a tiny dome on a remote volcano in Hawaii. The Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, or HI-SEAS, is in its fourth iteration.

Astrobiologist Cyprien Verseux recently shared details of his experience as one of six researchers in HI-SEAS IV for a year on his blog, and his tale makes the idea of being a pioneering outer space scientist sound way harder than it looks in the movies. Here are five things we learned about what working on Mars might be like in the future.

1. YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO REPLACE BROKEN EQUIPMENT.

The HI-SEAS habitat in Hawaii. Image Credit: Cyprien Verseux

One day, Verseux broke a flask in his lab. “A cheap flask, easily replaceable, that I would have quickly forgotten about under normal conditions,” he writes. “As I have not seen a shop in the past eight months, and the dome has no postal address, I will have to go without it. Without this flask, precious after all, that was part of the limited supplies we have here. Researchers on Mars will have to face constraints which are unusual to a typical western laboratory.”

2. ELECTRICITY WILL BE HARD TO COME BY.

Resources are predictably scarce in space, and it’s not just water that’s limited. Most of the dome’s energy supply comes from solar panels, as it might on Mars, but they don’t always perform as expected. “In practice, our power generation is quite unpredictable: we don’t face dust storms as we would have on Mars, but we do get clouds,” Verseux writes. “I often have to postpone experiments because we lack the power for running the centrifuge or the autoclave.”

3. IT WILL BE HARD TO FOCUS. 

“How do you feel after spending an entire weekend at home, without going outside even once?” Verseux asks. “Imagine spending months there. Because of the lack of open air and the monotony, we sometimes have to fight a tendency to slow down.”

4. YOU WILL HAVE TO IMPROVISE.

If The Martian taught us anything, it’s that improvisational skills are key in space. But even conducting basic scientific work far from Earth-bound labs requires clever workarounds. Just because you carefully plan and budget for your project doesn’t mean that everything goes as planned, Verseux cautions. “You used more tubes than expected because you had forgotten a control, you spilled a bottle of reagent, a colleague broke your glassware when dancing to the sound of his MP3 player,” he lists among the potential pratfalls of the lab. Under normal circumstances, these issues could be easily remedied, but far from any postal service, they become bigger barriers. If it wasn’t on the initial list of necessities, you won’t be getting it delivered to Mars.

5. YOU WON’T BE FACEBOOKING.

“Our internet access is limited to a few websites necessary to our work,” he describes. The researchers have to email the Mission Support Crew to access most documents and information that could easily be Googled at home. “Getting information that we could find in less than 15 minutes ‘on Earth’ can take days here, especially given that our emails have a 20-minute delay in both directions to simulate the 4-to-24-minute delay necessary for Earth–Mars communications.”

[h/t ResearchGate]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Tony Karumba, AFP/Getty Images
arrow
Animals
How a Pregnant Rhino Named Victoria Could Save an Entire Subspecies
Sudan, the last male member of the northern white rhino subspecies, while being shipped to Kenya in 2009
Sudan, the last male member of the northern white rhino subspecies, while being shipped to Kenya in 2009
Tony Karumba, AFP/Getty Images

The last male northern white rhino died at a conservancy in Kenya earlier this year, prompting fears that the subspecies was finally done for after decades of heavy poaching. Scientists say there's still hope, though, and they're banking on a pregnant rhino named Victoria at the San Diego Zoo, according to the Associated Press.

Victoria is actually a southern white rhino, but the two subspecies are related. Only two northern white rhinos survive, but neither of the females in Kenya are able to reproduce. Victoria was successfully impregnated through artificial insemination, and if she successfully carries her calf to term in 16 to 18 months, scientists say she might be able to serve as a surrogate mother and propagate the northern white rhino species.

But how would that work if no male northern rhinos survive? As the AP explains, scientists are working to recreate northern white rhino embryos using genetic technology. The San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research has the frozen cell lines of 12 different northern white rhinos, which can be transformed into stem cells—and ultimately, sperm and eggs. The sperm of the last northern white male rhino, Sudan, was also saved before he died.

Scientists have been monitoring six female southern white rhinos at the San Diego Zoo to see if any emerge as likely candidates for surrogacy. However, it's not easy to artificially inseminate a rhino, and there have been few successful births in the past. There's still a fighting chance, though, and scientists ultimately hope they'll be able to build up a herd of five to 15 northern white rhinos over the next few decades.

[h/t Time Magazine]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Getty Images
arrow
entertainment
Why Our Brains Love Plot Twists
Getty Images
Getty Images

From the father-son reveal in The Empire Strikes Back to the shocking realization at the end of The Sixth Sense, everyone loves a good plot twist. It's not the element of surprise that makes them so enjoyable, though. It's largely the set-up, according to cognitive scientist Vera Tobin.

Tobin, a researcher at Case Western Reserve University, writes for The Conversationthat one of the most enjoyable moments of a film or novel comes after the big reveal, when we get to go back and look at the clues we may have missed. "The most satisfying surprises get their power from giving us a fresh, better way of making sense of the material that came before," Tobin writes. "This is another opportunity for stories to turn the curse of knowledge to their advantage."

The curse of knowledge, Tobin explains, refers to a psychological effect in which knowledge affects our perception and "trips us up in a lot of ways." For instance, a puzzle always seems easier than it really is after we've learned how to solve it, and once we know which team won a baseball game, we tend to overestimate how likely that particular outcome was.

Good writers know this intuitively and use it to their advantage to craft narratives that will make audiences want to review key points of the story. The end of The Sixth Sense, for example, replays earlier scenes of the movie to clue viewers in to the fact that Bruce Willis's character has been dead the whole time—a fact which seems all too obvious in hindsight, thanks to the curse of knowledge.

This is also why writers often incorporate red herrings—or false clues—into their works. In light of this evidence, movie spoilers don't seem so terrible after all. According to one study, even when the plot twist is known in advance, viewers still experience suspense. Indeed, several studies have shown that spoilers can even enhance enjoyment because they improve "fluency," or a viewer's ability to process and understand the story.

Still, spoilers are pretty universally hated—the Russo brothers even distributed fake drafts of Avengers: Infinity War to prevent key plot points from being leaked—so it's probably best not to go shouting the end of this summer's big blockbuster before your friends have seen it.

[h/t The Conversation]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios