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Updated at 3:35 p.m., Sunday, April 22, 2007

UH scientist chosen for simulated mission to Mars

Advertiser Staff

HONOLULU University of Hawai'i at Manoa scientist Kim Binsted, an assistant professor in the Department of Information and Computer Sciences, is one of seven crew members from around the world that will participate in an unprecedented four-month Mars simulation mission beginning next month. Binsted will leave Wednesday for the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station (FMARS) on Devon Island in the high Canadian Arctic, a location only 900 miles from the North Pole chosen for its striking similarity to the Red Planet.

Sponsored by The Mars Society, a private international grassroots organization dedicated to furthering the case for human exploration of Mars, the mission will stand as the longest and most isolated human Mars simulation mission ever conducted when it is completed. Its objective is to prepare for eventual human missions to the Red Planet by conducting scientific exploration under nearly all of the constraints that astronauts on an actual Mars mission will face one day.

Binsted will join the other six crew members, who come from the United States and Canada, in investigating field exploration techniques that would be relevant to the scientific exploration of Mars. She serves as the chief scientist on the crew and her role includes coordinating the collaboration between the crew and the "Earth-based" Science Advisory Group, carrying out the projects on which she is the crew lead, and being a "guinea pig" in several of the human factors experiments.

"We're excited about both doing the science and being the science," says Binsted. "By doing the field science under mission constraints, we'll face, and hopefully overcome, many of the same challenges that Mars explorers will face one day."

Some of the scientific projects that the crew will conduct include geological surveys, searching for evidence of past life, searching for evidence of extant life, and environmental and meteorological observations. In addition, investigating the role and optimal combination of human exploration, telepresence, robotic exploration, and the use of remote sensing tools are all part of the simulations.

The crew will be supported by a Remote Science Team composed of NASA, university and private scientists that will provide scientific and logistical assistance in a role analogous to that of mission support anticipated by NASA for future human Mars exploration missions.

Binsted participated in a two-week practice mission in February at The Mars Society's Mars Desert Research Station outside of Hanksville, Utah. While there, the crew conducted tasks such as familiarizing themselves with the space suits they will be required to wear every time they venture outside, learned to collaborate with the Remote Science Team, and spent an entire week in full simulation with almost all of the constraints of the Arctic mission in place.

"I'm both pleased and relieved to be able to say that my crewmates are all smart, skilled and level-headed people. They're all easy to get along with, which is very important because living and working together in such a small space for such a long time will be very challenging."

During the four-month mission, Binsted will be posting messages on her blog, www.mars-ho.blogspot.com, with the latest news and details. The crew blog and more formal reports can be found on the mission website, www.fmars2007.org.