Kiwis share their Mars experience

By Abby Gillies

Engineer Ali Harley and commander Haritina Mogosanu were part of the six-person KiwiMars team's mission in the Utah desert. Photo / Supplied
Engineer Ali Harley and commander Haritina Mogosanu were part of the six-person KiwiMars team's mission in the Utah desert. Photo / Supplied

After 14 days wearing spacesuits in a simulated mission, the first Kiwis sent to live on "Mars" have spoken of their experiences in an alien environment.

The six-person crew of three men and three women entered a simulated spacecraft at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in Utah on April 21, as the KiwiMars team.

During the two-week expedition they lived in a cramped 10m-wide, two-storey "environment" that included a greenhouse and an observatory, to replicate what a mission to Mars could be like.

Living in close quarters in an unfamiliar environment was challenging, admitted mission commander Haritina Mogosanu, who assembled the crew in six months.

"When you get to such a place everything is alien. People do get nervous, they get scared and a little bit on edge because they don't know how to react. It's like a survival camp."

In spite of meeting for the first time when they arrived in Utah, the crew got along well, she said.

The crew of Mission 118 wore functioning simulated spacesuits when outside the habitat and communicated with the outside world by radio. Research during the mission included geology, biology, nutrition, astronomy and the effects of living in a small environment.

Their days were spent carrying out research, eating dehydrated food, having limited contact with loved ones and getting little sleep, said Ms Mogosanu.

The mission had achieved its aims of increasing interest in science and helping a collective international goal of a manned voyage to Mars.

"Every single expedition like this is bringing more knowledge of what we should and shouldn't do to go to Mars."

Next week the team will share their experience at the Carter Observatory in Wellington.

The mission is one of many taken by crews to get the Mars experience. Last November, six astronauts emerged into a Moscow carpark from a 18-month mission inside a capsule - the longest simulated space voyage undertaken.

The experiment of monotony and isolation cut them off from family and friends and sunshine and fresh air to simulate an expedition to Mars and back.

During the 520-day mission, the six men - three Russian, one Italian, one French and one Chinese - could communicate with "mission control" and loved ones, but had to contend with a 20-minute lag to simulate the distance they had "travelled".

Next Wednesday, the KiwiMars crew will preview some of the hours of footage that will be used to make two documentaries about their experience and an exhibition on the trip will be opened.

A Mars rover launched by Nasa last year is scheduled to land on August 6 to collect data for a manned mission to Mars.

- APNZ

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