Astronauts will have to spend large amounts of time in a cramped space in isolation if they go to Mars, and these scientists are testing what it's going to be like.
You’d have to be crazy to do it: lock yourself in a dome on top of a remote volcano on Hawaii for months, with no contact with anyone from the outside world other than a NASA communications system on a 20-minute delay. And yet these six scientists are doing it, in the name of science, and a future manned mission to Mars.
The scientists have entered this man-made dome on Mauna Loa as part of a human-behavior study meant to help NASA determine how to send astronauts all the way to Mars. A total of four men and two women are now inside the 1,200 square foot space, and they won’t be able to talk to anyone outside of the dome other than with NASA through a radio on a 20-minute delay in order to mimic the amount of time it takes communications to go between Mars and Earth.
Why do the study? Scientists want to understand the psychological difficulties of living in an isolated and enclosed space over a long period before they ask astronauts to do it.
A University of Hawaii statement says the following about the dome: “The HI-SEAS site has Mars-like geology which allows crews to perform high-fidelity geological field work and add to the realism of the mission simulation. The Martian regolith examined by the CheMin instrument (Blake et al. 2012) is very similar to the weathered basaltic materials found in this part of Hawaii. The site is a former cinder rock quarry on the side of a spatter cone. It is surrounded by relatively recent lava flows with very little plant or animal life present. None of the sparse flora or fauna is rare which mitigates the likelihood of adverse environmental impact due to mission activities. The flows include a wide variety of volcanic features to explore, such as lava tubes, skylights, channels, and tumuli. The HI-SEAS site is visually isolated, yet accessible by a dirt road, and a hospital and other emergency services are within a one hour driving distance (much less by helicopter). It has a cool, dry climate that varies very little over the year, enabling long-duration missions.”