Above: PISCES geologist Kyla Edison descends into a lava tube on the lower slope of Mauna Loa during an EVA (Extra Vehicular Activity) as part of a simulated lunar mission led by the European Space Agency last month. Credit: EMMIHS-III/HI-SEAS.
Six analog astronauts wrapped up a two-week lunar simulation mission at the Hawai‘i Space Exploration and Analog Simulation (HI-SEAS) habitat on Mauna Loa volcano last weekend, conducting research and exercises to inform the future of human settlements beyond Earth.
The crew included HI-SEAS director and mission commander Michaela Musilova; head of rover operations Robert Heemskerk; geologist and lead scientist Marc Heemskerk; aerospace engineer, artist and commander-in-training Priyanka Das Rajkakati; aerospace engineer, PhD student and chief engineer Lucas Brasileiro; and PISCES geologist and communications and science officer, Kyla Edison.
The mission began Jan. 18 with training on the ins and outs of the dome-shaped habitat, highlighting energy and water conservation as a top priority. HI-SEAS is a solar-powered facility with battery storage, but stores can quickly be depleted during overcast or stormy weather. To ration water, each crew member was allotted only eight minutes of shower use per week.
With little time to enjoy modern conveniences, the crew focused on their research. They conducted a series of EVAs (Extra Vehicular Activities, or expeditions outside a spacecraft or habitat) wearing space suits and prepared with various tools and instruments. One EVA involved setting up a relay antenna to operate the 700-pound planetary rover provided by PISCES. The rover, named Helelani, served as a robotic crew member, relaying information via sensors and cameras while bolstering the realism of the mission. Several smaller rovers accompanied the mission including one provided by Zebro, which was remotely controlled from the Netherlands.
On foot, crew members explored a series of massive lava tubes, mapping their terrain and taking small samples in a responsible manner. PISCES geologist Edison collected three rock samples from the surface to test basalt sintering at high-altitude. Using a muffle furnace, she heated the samples in search of a thermal profile that would produce a durable product. On the moon, the process could be used to make structures like landing pads, shelters and berms.
Overall, the mission went smoothly and the crew developed a good rapport.
“The mission was very successful,” said Commander Musilova. “The whole crew managed to perform most of the research that they desired to do during the mission and we all had a great time. This crew bonded very well and they were also the most efficient crew in terms of low water usage on record at HI-SEAS.”
The two-week simulation was the third EuroMoonMars mission in a collaborative series led by the European Space Agency (ESA), the International Moonbase Alliance (IMA) and HI-SEAS. Since 2018, IMA has been organizing lunar and Mars simulations at HI-SEAS to help build a moon base prototype in Hawai‘i as a proof-of-concept for the real thing.