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NASA Project In Hawaii Simulates 1-Year Mars Mission

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Now let's talk about a part of the Earth's surface that is currently playing the role of Mars. It's a dusty, rocky slope of Hawaii's Mauna Loa volcano.

KIM BINSTED: It looks just like the pictures that are coming back from the rovers on the surface of Mars.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This is not the filming of "The Martian." University of Hawaii professor Kim Binsted is performing some real science here. She's running a series of NASA-funded projects trying to understand how humans would survive on Mars. Turns out Hawaii was the perfect place to do that.

MONTAGNE: Six people there are simulating life on Mars for a year, and they've just crossed the halfway point. Just as they might have to do on Mars, they are living in an isolated solar-powered dome habitat while eating freeze-dried food. Anytime they leave, they must act like it's Mars.

BINSTED: They have to put on their spacesuits. They need to submit a plan 24 hours in advance. They need to stay in the airlock for a certain period of time before they go outside.

INSKEEP: And all the while, Binsted studies the crew's cohesion and performance.

BINSTED: If the human part of that system fails, it's just as catastrophic as if a rocket blows up. So we're trying to make sure that the human parts of that system are robust and resilient enough to make the journey there and back again.

MONTAGNE: And NASA has said it hopes to be able to send humans to the real Red Planet by the 2030s. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.