Carmel Johnston on One Year on Mars: HI-SEAS Mission IV at TEDxCharlottesville (Transcript)

Carmel Johnston

Carmel Johnston, ‎Commander of HI-SEAS IV, speaks about their experience of One Year on Mars: HI-SEAS Mission IV at TEDxCharlottesville Conference (Transcript)

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: One Year on Mars – HI-SEAS Mission IV by Carmel Johnston at TEDxCharlottesville


Carmel Johnston, ‎Commander of HI-SEAS IV

I lived for a year on Mars. I was the commander of the longest NASA-funded space simulation. The Hawaii space exploration, analog and simulation, also known as HI-SEAS, is a series of space simulation studying the effects of isolation and confinement on human beings. This is so we can better prepare ourselves for future missions into deep space.

The first two missions were four months each, the third was eight months and my mission was 366 days thanks to a leap year. The dome we lived in was very small. My bedroom was half the size of this circle. The rest of the dome began here. We had a bathroom, a BioLab, a kitchen, a telemetry room, a common space and then a wall. Nothing was ever further than five steps away from wall, all the time. We joked that our bedrooms were five steps away from the kitchen.

I shared this space with five other people for an entire year. Yes, we all volunteered to do this, and to spoil the ending, we all came out alive.

So this is what the dome looks like. In the front we have a solar panel array. This is able to generate all the power that we’re going to need for the entire day. Some of that power is stored in batteries which we use during the night time to get us through the evening and to the next day when hopefully we have sunshine again.

On the side of the dome, we also have a shipping container. This is what houses all of our food. The way a food resupply worked for us was that mission support would send us food once every four months. This required us to plan months in advance what we would need for Thanksgiving and Christmas. And then once we got that food, we would have to allocate it appropriately so that it would last us that entire time until we got another resupply. On many occasions, our favorite tasty goodies disappeared rather quickly because we were so excited to eat them.

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Also, in the background we have Mauna Kea volcano. Now this was a really important part for me, a feeling like we were in isolation. In order to study the social and psychological aspects of it, you have to be both in total and complete isolation from human beings of any kind, no contact at all for the entire year. And you have to live in a place that looks like Mars. This landscape looks like Mars, and in the background looking at Mauna Kea volcano every morning out of tiny little window, it felt like I was looking at Olympus Mons, the largest volcano on Mars. This was just everyday you are on Mars and that was exciting. It was so cool.

There are a lot of restrictions to living on Mars. For one, you can’t go outside and breathe the atmosphere, out there it doesn’t have the right pressure and there’s other aspects to that for why you can’t breathe it. So in order to go outside you get to wear a spacesuit. Now walking on this terrain is difficult enough as it is but walking with a 50-pound spacesuit adds a whole new level of challenge.

What did we do while we were here? We weren’t just reading books and playing video games as much as a lot of people thought we were doing. We were doing research, active research on us and we’re doing our own research projects as well. One of the things that the researchers wanted to find out is how do we interact with each other. This is an image of the crew wearing a badge and essentially we wore these badges everyday and they’re proximity sensors. They are telling the researchers and the mission support team who’s interacting with who at any given time, what our heart rate is doing and what are the environmental conditions around us, what is the temperature and the light and the sound doing? And the goal of this is that when we send humans to deep space, mission support can look at data and they can say oh, these two people aren’t interacting any longer; why is that? Is that because they had a fight and they’re not talking to each other anymore? Or is it because it’s four o’clock and they’re all exercising? Or is it because it’s really really cold outside and everybody is underneath the blanket trying to stay warm. These are things that happen in real life. So everything that happened to us during the year is data and that’s really exciting.

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