Off on a mission to 'Mars on Earth'
By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer
By Mary Vorsino
What is it like to live on Mars?
Seven adventurous scientists, including a University of Hawai'i computer science professor, will look for the answer this summer in the Canadian Arctic.
From May to August, they will hole up in a futuristic-looking research station on Devon Island, an uninhabited wasteland 900 miles from the North Pole. When they walk outside into below-zero temperatures, they will wear space suits. Their research will mimic what scientists on Mars would likely study — climate, topography and daily changes in temperature.
But most importantly, they will experience the hardships of a not-so-simulated isolation, miles away from anything resembling civilization: They will eat freeze-dried or canned food, strictly ration their water intake, and follow a strict routine of work, exercise and rest.
"We're excited about both doing the science and being the science," said Kim Binsted, the UH-Manoa associate professor of information and computer sciences who will leave Wednesday to join her fellow crew members in Utah, where they will then travel together to their Arctic outpost.
"By doing the field science under mission constraints, we'll face, and hopefully overcome, many of the same challenges Mars explorers will face."
Never before has a group of scientists gone to such lengths to simulate a mission to Mars.
The Mars Society, which is funding the mission, has only undertaken one- to five-week simulation missions on Devon Island. Since 2000, when simulation missions started, the society has sent 10 crews to its Arctic outpost, while 61 other crews spent time at the society's Mars Desert Research Station in southern Utah.
"We're trying to learn how to explore Mars," Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society, said by phone. "It's Mars on Earth."
Zubrin has gone on several missions to Devon Island and the Utah station. In 2002, he spent four weeks in the Canadian Arctic. "One thing I've learned, you want to have crew members who know how to laugh," he said, erupting in giggles. "If you lose your sense of humor on Mars, you're finished."
The Mars Society identifies itself as a "private international grassroots organization dedicated to furthering the case for human exploration to Mars."
Though much of the society's funding comes from private donors, it also gets money from NASA. And 20 percent of its crew members over the years have been NASA or European Space Agency scientists. The rest have come from all over the science world, from biologists to engineers.
In preparation for the upcoming trip, Binsted and her fellow mission crew members spent two weeks in February at the station in Utah to learn everything from how to survive in extreme conditions to how to cook with freeze-dried food. One of the recipes Binsted mastered was pizza — made with powdered-milk mozzarella.
Reach Mary Vorsino at firstname.lastname@example.org.