Jason DavisMay 24, 2018

Funpost! Audio diaries from simulated Mars

Welcome back for another edition of the weekly Funpost!

Starting in 2013, five teams of humans have voluntarily isolated themselves in a little dome on the side of a Hawai'i volcano for an experiment called HI-SEAS (Hawai'i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation), which simulates what it might be like to live on Mars. Each mission lasted between four months and a year. A sixth was underway in February when a crew member was injured, forcing the simulation to be canceled. Actually, that might have been for the best, since Google Maps says the HI-SEAS habitat is just 20 miles from the erupting Kīlauea volcano!  

The HI-SEAS dome has just 13,000 cubic feet of space, making it a cozy two-and-a-half times smaller than the International Space Station. Crews brings all their food and supplies with them, and communicate with mission control under a simulated time delay, just like on Mars. They also wear spacesuits when they go outside to explore the volcano's Mars-like terrain.

Want to know what a HI-SEAS mission is like? If so, you're in luck, because I have a certified Funpost! recommendation: a new podcast from Gimlet Media called The Habitat. There are seven episodes, each about a half-hour long. The host and reporter is Lynn Levy, who got the HI-SEAS IV crew to send her audio diaries during their year in isolation.

Warning: Spoilers ahead! 

HI-SEAS habitat in Hawaii
HI-SEAS habitat in Hawaii Image: University of Hawaii

Not surprisingly, the HI-SEAS IV crew didn't always get along. Researchers have noticed crews' tolerance for each others' annoying habits wears thin at about 6 months. Take, for instance, a crew member who likes to announce what he is doing, whether it's making breakfast burritos or eating a snack. This really starts to drive his fellow fake Martians crazy. It seems like a minor thing, but long periods of confinement with other humans apparently makes you a little loopy!

The HI-SEAS crew would probably not enjoy my company, by the way. I have similar, weird verbal habits, like polling my family for assertions that they had a good time immediately following any outing. WELL, I will say to my daughter in my most Dad-like voice, DID YOU HAVE FUN AT THE PLAYGROUND? (The only correct answer is yes.)

The Habitat also has hookup drama! In episode 4, "She Likes to Camp Alone in the Finnish Winter," Lynn tries to figure out whether two crewmembers who are very friendly with one another are in a relationship, only to discover a DIFFERENT couple has paired off! It's like a dating reality show, but for nerds.

Also, there's poop! The HI-SEAS crew uses a composting toilet, which is… not for me. Have you ever seen one of those things? I once went to a greywater harvesting class, and was quite enjoying my tour of a low-environmental-impact home right up until the hosts showed me the composting toilet. NO THANKS. I am all for protecting the environment, but I can't compromise on sewer-based plumbing. In the podcast, the composting toilet breaks, so two of the crewmembers have to repair it by cleaning out everyone's recent bowel movements by hand. Fun! 

That's it for this week's Funpost! If you have any questions or topics for a future Funpost!, send me an email at [email protected].

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