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.

Crew members suit up for their first EVA on mission day three.  Photo: HI-SEAS/EMMIHS-III
Crew members suit up for their first EVA on mission day three. Photo: HI-SEAS/EMMIHS-III

Six analog astronauts wrapped up a two-week lunar simulation at the Hawai‘i Space Exploration and Analog Simulation (HI-SEAS) habitat on Mauna Loa last weekend, conducting research and exercises to help pave the way for human settlements beyond Earth.

“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 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, communications and science officer, Kyla Edison.

On Jan. 18, 2020, their mission began with an overview of the dome-shaped HI-SEAS habitat, highlighting energy and water conservation as a top priority. The facility is solar-powered with battery storage, which can quickly be depleted during overcast or stormy days. 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 conducted a series of EVAs (Extra Vehicular Activities, or expeditions outside a spacecraft or habitat) in space suits carrying various tools and instruments. One EVA involved setting up a relay antenna to operate a 700-pound planetary rover. The rover, loaned by PISCES and 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 Helelani including one provided by Zebro that was remotely controlled from the Netherlands.

On foot, crew members explored a series of massive lava tubes, mapping their terrain and taking small samples while mindful of leaving the ecology unharmed. PISCES geologist Kyla 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 an ideal thermal profile that would result in a durable sintered basalt material. The process could be used to make structures like landing pads, shelters and berms on the Moon.

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.