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Scientists Emerge From Year-Long Mars Simulation in Hawaii

Former crewmember Martha Lenio during a previous mission. Image Credit: YouTube // University of Hawaii

This past Sunday (August 28), six pale, grinning faces greeted the sunlight for the first time in a year. The crew of the longest-ever Mars simulator mission in Hawaii has come back to Earth. 

The Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) program tests crewmembers’ ability to cope and get along while stuck in a small habitat for months at a time. Their convincingly Martian habitat is situated on the desolate, rocky slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano. The site’s high elevation keeps it barren and alien-looking, and its soil is similar to that found on Mars. At 36 feet across and 20 feet tall, the dome itself is a snug fit for six crewmembers, their possessions, and all of their scientific equipment. With limited contact with the outside world and nowhere to go, the dome offers endurance socializing at its most extreme. (If this appeals to you and you want to join the next mission, you can get the details and sign up here.) 

HI-SEAS has staged three previous missions to Hawaiian Mars: two four-month ‘voyages’ in 2013 and 2014 and an eight-month stay, also in 2014. At exactly 365 days, HI-SEAS IV was the longest mission yet. The international, multidisciplinary crew included astrobiologist Cyprien Verseux, physicist Christiane Heinicke, physician Sheyna Gifford, engineer Andrzej Stewart, architect Tristan Bassingthwaighte, and soil scientist Carmel Johnston. 

Image Credit: University of Hawaii News via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Beaming and squinting in the bright Hawaiian daylight, the newly grounded crew expressed elation and optimism about our future on Mars, saying “a mission to Mars in the close future is realistic,” as Verseux told the press. “I think the technological and psychological obstacles can be overcome.” 

HI-SEAS principal investigator Kim Binsted said the crew was most looking forward to a plunge in the ocean and the opportunity to fill their plates with all the fresh produce they’ve been missing.

Although they never truly left the ground, the HI-SEAS IV crew returned with the awe, vulnerability, and hope of so many space travelers before them. Writing in her blog mere moments before the end of the mission, Gifford wrote

The roots of our humanity are buried in it and reach for it, growing towards the light of the only sun we have ever felt on our skin and beyond, to other suns, to other stars. This was a year of my life. Light from our sun traveled 5,878,499,817 miles out towards other words, 3,375 of which are known to us as of this moment. Light from their suns hurled the same distance towards are. We are, in a metaphorical and physical sense, reaching for each other – not for any reason. It just does. We just are. 

Gifford closed her post with an exhortation to her fellow travelers on Spaceship Earth. “For you all out there: just keep going,” she wrote. “It will be the hardest and best thing you ever do. For me, for now—I’m going on vacation.”

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Space
The Fascinating Device Astronauts Use to Weigh Themselves in Space

Most every scale on Earth, from the kind bakers use to measure ingredients to those doctors use to weigh patients, depends on gravity to function. Weight, after all, is just the mass of an object times the acceleration of gravity that’s pushing it toward Earth. That means astronauts have to use unconventional tools when recording changes to their bodies in space, as SciShow explains in the video below.

While weight as we know it technically doesn’t exist in zero-gravity conditions, mass does. Living in space can have drastic effects on a person’s body, and measuring mass is one way to keep track of these changes.

In place of a scale, NASA astronauts use something called a Space Linear Acceleration Mass Measurement Device (SLAMMD) to “weigh” themselves. Once they mount the pogo stick-like contraption it moves them a meter using a built-in spring. Heavier passengers take longer to drag, while a SLAMMD with no passenger at all takes the least time to move. Using the amount of time it takes to cover a meter, the machine can calculate the mass of the person riding it.

Measuring weight isn’t the only everyday activity that’s complicated in space. Astronauts have been forced to develop clever ways to brush their teeth, clip their nails, and even sleep without gravity.

[h/t SciShow]

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Watch Astronauts Assemble Pizza in Space
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Most everyone enjoys a good pizza party: Even astronauts living aboard the International Space Station.

As this video from NASA shows, assembling pizza in zero gravity is not only possible, it also has delicious results. The inspiration for the pizza feast came from Paolo Nespoli, an Italian astronaut who was craving one of his home country’s national dishes while working on the ISS. NASA’s program manager for the space station, Kirk Shireman, sympathized with his colleague and ordered pizzas to be delivered to the station.

NASA took a little longer responding to the request than your typical corner pizzeria might. The pizzas were delivered via the Orbital ATK capsule, and once they arrived, the ingredients had to be assembled by hand. The components didn’t differ too much from regular pizzas on Earth: Flatbread, tomato sauce, and cheese served as the base, and pepperoni, pesto, olives, and anchovy paste made up the toppings. Before heating them up, the astronauts had some fun with their creations, twirling them around like "flying saucers of the edible kind,” according to astronaut Randy Bresnik.

In case the pizza party wasn’t already a success, it also coincided with movie night on the International Space Station.

[h/t KHQ Q6]

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