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US Researchers Study Issue Tied to Long-Term Space Flight

2017-09-25

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[00:00.00]
  • Research subjects who have lived with limited human contact since January recently completed an experiment.
  • [00:11.18]
  • The six, four men and two women, lived near the top of a volcano on the Pacific island of Hawaii.
  • [00:20.41]
  • They agreed to stay in a small, restricted area as part of a study to learn about the mental and emotional effects of a long term space mission.
  • [00:35.38]
  • The six people lived and acted much like astronauts would on an eight-month long visit to the planet Mars.
  • [00:45.71]
  • The American space agency NASA provided money for the experiment.
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  • Information gathered in the study will help NASA choose individuals and groups with the right qualities for a trip to Mars.
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  • Individuals who are able to deal with long-term space travel need to have special qualities or traits.
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  • They need to be able to deal well with isolation, pressure and danger for up to three years on a trip that would take them far from Earth.
  • [01:29.33]
  • The six research subjects were isolated from other people on a large flat plain near the top of Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano.
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  • The area is about 2,400 meters above sea level and has thin, dry air.
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  • During the experiment, the subjects wore space suits like those worn by astronauts and traveled in teams whenever leaving their living structure.
  • [02:09.60]
  • Researchers called the dome-shaped living space a habitat.
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  • It is about the size of a small house.
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  • The kinds of foods available to the research subjects were limited.
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  • They ate mostly freeze-dried or canned food during the experiment.
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  • All communications between the “crew members” and outsiders were given a 20-minute delay, increasing the sense of isolation.
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  • Twenty-minutes is the time it takes a radio signal to travel from Mars to Earth.
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  • The mission was the fifth in a series of six NASA-financed studies at the University of Hawaii habitat.
  • [03:03.94]
  • It is called the Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, or HI-SEAS.
  • [03:12.81]
  • Laura Lark was the team’s information technology specialist.
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  • She thinks a manned flight to Mars is a reasonable goal for NASA.
  • [03:25.53]
  • Lark described the project in a video message recorded in the dome.
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  • “There are certainly human factors to be figured out, that’s part of what HI-SEAS is for,” she said.
  • [03:42.72]
  • “But I think that overcoming those challenges is just a matter of effort. We are absolutely capable of it.”
  • [03:52.00]
  • In the experiment, researchers used games to study human behavior.
  • [03:58.14]
  • The crew members played games designed to measure their ability to work together.
  • [04:05.49]
  • Games also helped measure their ability to deal with pressure or stress.
  • [04:12.47]
  • The crew members also kept documentation of how they were feeling.
  • [04:19.15]
  • In addition to activities, members of the team wore sensors that measured voice levels and how near they were to others in the living space.
  • [04:32.34]
  • Kim Binsted, a professor at the University of Hawaii, was one the lead investigators in the study.
  • [04:42.05]
  • She said the sensors could record if people were avoiding one another or if they were close to each other in an argument.
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  • “We’ve learned, for one thing, that conflict, even in the best of teams, is going to arise,” Binsted said.
  • [05:02.55]
  • “So what’s really important is to have a crew that, both as individuals and a group, is really resilient, is able to look at that conflict and come back from it.”
  • [05:18.60]
  • Another part of the study was to test ways to help the crew members coped with stress.
  • [05:26.88]
  • When they felt helpless, they could use what the researchers called virtual reality devices.
  • [05:35.20]
  • These could show the team members images of a seaside getaway or something else.
  • [05:42.97]
  • Other countries have performed studies on the effects of long-term space flight.
  • [05:50.38]
  • The researchers in Hawaii, however, say their project provides an environment most like Mars.
  • [05:59.02]
  • The area on Mauna Loa is covered with hard, red volcanic rock.
  • [06:04.84]
  • The crew-members were required to carry out studies of the rocky surface, make maps and care for their habitat.
  • [06:15.22]
  • The living space had a laboratory, cooking area and bedrooms with little room for anything else.
  • [06:24.24]
  • After the experiment was finished, food was the first thing on the mind of the six astronauts.
  • [06:32.64]
  • They gladly ate a feast of tropical fruit.
  • [06:37.85]
  • I’m Mario Ritter.
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