After spending eight months of isolation on a remote Hawaii volcano that mirrors a habitat like Mars, six NASA scientists will return to civilization on Sunday.
In January, the crew of four men and two women were quarantined on a vast plain below the summit of the giant volcano Mauna Loa, one of the world's largest. All of their communications with the outside world were subjected to a 20-minute delay - the time it takes for signals to get from Mars to Earth.
In order to acquire a better understanding of how astronauts would respond mentally, physically and psychologically a long-term manned mission to Mars, which the space agency hopes to launch by the 2030s.
Based on their data, NASA will select those who hold favorable chances of performing well during a two-to-three year Mars expedition.
The project's lead investigator, University of Hawaii professor Kim Binsted, said, "This is our fifth mission, and we have learned a lot over those five missions. We've learned, for one thing, that conflict, even in the best of teams, is going to arise. 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."
The project is the fifth in a series of six NASA-funded studies at the University of Hawaii facility called the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, or HI-SEAS. NASA has dedicated about $2.5 million to the studies at the facility.