In case you missed it, last Sunday six people walked outside on the slopes of Mauna Loa in Hawaii for the first time in a year without wearing a spacesuit. Why would you wear a spacesuit in Hawaii, you ask? Because Mars.
The Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) experiment is an attempt to simulate a long-duration Mars environment here on Earth. Long before The Martian, scientists and engineers have been researching what it would take for humans to travel to Mars and to live and work on its surface. That means not only what is required physically, but emotionally and psychologically as well. HI-SEAS is primarily focused on behavioral research in order to better understand how to select a team of astronauts that can work effectively in an isolated and confining environment.
The six team members of this year-long study (three women and three men) lived in a habitat of only 1,200 square feet with each crew member having only a closet sized area to themselves. To simulate living on Mars, the crew had to go through spacesuit and airlock procedures anytime they wanted to exit or re-enter the facility, just like an astronaut would. They also ate a lot of freeze-dried meat and dealt with a 20-minute delay in all communications with the outside world. The biggest factor they were unable to simulate is the reduced gravity of Mars (roughly 1/3rd of Earth).
Potentially one of the coolest things they had, which current astronauts don't yet benefit from, was virtual reality (VR). Crew members were able to virtually experience messages sent from home as well as construct their own virtual environments. (I can definitely see that coming in handy when you need an escape.)
If you want to read more about HI-SEAS and what this crew had to say about their experience, I recommend this article by Nadia Drake.
Here's some more geek from the week: