In ten days, the doors will close.
From then on, and for a whole year, I will never feel the wind in my hair or the sun on my skin. I will live in an isolated, 36-feet-in-diameter dome, together with 5 other people. These will be the only people I will see. The only people I will talk to, too: I will have no direct communication with anyone else. Showering will be a luxury, limited to a few minutes a week. My internet access will be restrained and monitored. Actually, almost everything I do will be monitored, with a complex set of devices ranging from video cameras to electronic badges I will have to wear all day.
What crime did I commit to be confined there? None. I actually agreed to go. Worse: I volunteered for this, and am delighted to go.
But I should start from the beginning.
My name is Cyprien Verseux, and I am a French astrobiologist. My work? Making human outposts on Mars as independent as possible of Earth. The approach I follow relies on living organisms to process Mars’s resources into products needed for human consumption. In other words, I am figuring out how to live on Mars off the land using biology and what is already there. More about this later; for now, most of the concept is described here. This is actually part of my work, the other one being on the survivability of microorganisms beyond Earth. I am currently doing this as a PhD student co-directed by Daniela Billi, at the University of Rome II (Italy) and Lynn Rothschild, at NASA Ames Research Center (Moffett Field, California).
Today I am writing from Paris, where I grew up. From there, tomorrow, I will take a plane to Hawaii where I will be one of six scientists taking part in the fourth HI-SEAS mission. HI-SEAS stands for “Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation”, and is a program founded by NASA’s Human Resources Program and lead by Dr. Kim Binsted, from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. The main goal is to develop strategies to make sure that the first humans traveling to Mars remain competent and sane. NASA foresees the first trip to Mars in the mid-2030s, so it is about time to check that we do not get crazy when isolated in such conditions. Opportunistic projects, aimed at testing and developing technologies to address other aspects of a trip to Mars, take advantage of the mission.