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From Mauna Loa To Planet Mars: Training For Space Exploration

The NASA logo on a protective box for a camera near the space shuttle Endeavour at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The NASA logo on a protective box for a camera near the space shuttle Endeavour at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Bulky space suits, limited electricity and water, no communication with the outside world, or fresh fruits and vegetables. You wouldn’t be mistaken if you’re picturing a space mission to Mars. And that’s exactly what NASA wanted with their simulated Martian training programming, Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, or HI-SEAS.

For four months, Kate Greene and five others lived in isolation at the top of the Hawaiian volcano of Mauna Loa. As “not really astronauts,” they lived, worked, and slept inside of a geodesic dome in order to understand what life on Mars could be like. In her new book, “Once Upon a Time I Lived on Mars: Space, Exploration, and Life on Earth,”Green writes about her experiences and what human exploration really means.

Here’s some of what she wrote:

And, as expected, while I was away on Mars my home changed as well. When an astronaut comes back, Earth isn’t where it was. The whole system has shifted from underneath and all around, which is of course just the imperceptible hurtling of our local galactic arm. “There is no there there,” as Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, which as an adult she found unrecognizable from the city of her childhood. It’s like anything, though. You leave and come back, and home isn’t what it was. But sometimes leaving is the only way to know it was ever home in the first place.

In the days and weeks after returning to Earth, my crew and I ate fresh fruits and vegetables that crunched in our mouths, we swam in the ocean, and we debriefed with Binsted, sharing some of our more personal and poignant observations during the mission, all in service, we believed, of a better imagined future trip to Mars. Those early days back home are something of a blur, though I do recall the intensity of certain sensations. Loud noises easily startled me. It took days for me to not actively notice even the slightest breeze on my skin.

Would you ever volunteer for a mission to Mars, even if you’d never return?  We get your take and learn more about what we can discover about ourselves and each other in isolation.

Copyright 2020 WAMU 88.5

James Morrison