The HI-SEAS facility, which resembles an enlarged golf ball, is located somewhere along with Mauna Loa in Hawai’i. Six modest rooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, a research lab, and a relaxing space are located within the dome. It’s encircled on the outside by solar panels and is connected to a storage container. All of this is contained inside a small space of 1,200 square feet, which is less than a fourth of a regular basketball court area. And under this dome, groups of six people live and train together for weeks or even months at a time, cut off from the rest of the world as they prepare to live on the Moon and Mars one day. Humans are devising ingenious ways to prepare for life beyond our blue dot, from the volcanic surfaces of Hawai’i to the parched deserts of the Atacama.
Michaela Musilova spends her days looking into this. To the best of her ability, she arranges missions that replicate life on non-terrestrial surfaces as the head of the HI-SEAS facility, which is the result of a NASA-funded research initiative. Musilova and her colleagues are attempting to answer several questions that may emerge after we set sail: What will we eat if we don’t have soil to grow it? Will exploring Mars outside of the bubble we intend to establish be safe? And how will we manage with living in close quarters for years on end with six other humans?
Because it’s difficult to test these situations on Earth, space exploration aspirants head to analog areas, which are regions that most closely mirror what we find on Mars and the Moon. The surrounding area is strewn with hollowed-out lava tubes that formerly conveyed cascading torrents of molten lava. Loa is an active volcano, and the surrounding terrain is covered with hollowed-out lava tubes. Its volcanic landscape is composed of material comparable to that found on the Moon today and, at least in part, on Mars. This permits geologists and astrobiologists to do research that simulates the circumstances astronauts would face on Mars, allowing them to practice the studies they will have to undertake in the future.
We need a deeper grasp of the situations we’ll find ourselves in as we prepare for alien life. We’d probably be living in a bubble someplace in the Amazon if Mars was covered in dense, verdant forest. Instead, when the scientists in the dome exit the dome to investigate the lava tubes, conduct research, and test out new equipment, they put on extravehicular activity suits.
They speak with mission control every day, which takes 20 minutes on Mars since communications must travel back and forth, and they eat freeze-dried food with minimal water. But this isn’t simply a game of house, Mars-style. The HI-SEAS missions are part of the International MoonBase Alliance’s (IMA) attempts to simulate what life would look like on the Moon, practice standard procedures that may become our new regular, and Learn how to engage with whatever form of life is existing in your environment.
“That is why we research a Mars-like environment on Earth, as well as Antarctica and other harsh settings throughout the planet. And lava caverns are one of those places, according to Musilova, because we know they’re quite likely to exist on Mars. “And so, if something lives in those circumstances on Mars, it’ll probably be comparable to what lives in these caves on Earth.” As a result, we try to figure out what lives there, how it survives, what it eats, and how it interacts with its surroundings.”
Though the volcanoes on Mars appear to be considerably older and have distinct rock compositions, Musilova claims that the geological aspects are comparable enough for humans to investigate the lava tubes here at home.
“We’re still hoping to find a life that may live today,” Musilova adds, “but we’re more optimistic about finding biosignatures or fossils.” “However, before we can even know what to search for, much alone construct tools to detect these biosignatures, we must first understand the types of signs life leaves behind in similar circumstances on Earth.”
The Moon’s lava tubes aren’t as promising for astrobiology. They’re excellent news for space architects. An outer shell forms once the molten lava surge has dissipated. Scientists like Musilova are hoping that these structures would protect the harsh lunar environment.
Bernard Foing doesn’t only fantasize about finding refuge in these lava tunnels. He conjures up images of buildings and even towns. Foing is the International Lunar Exploration Working Group director, a public forum linked with the IMA but supported by space organizations from all over the world, from France to South Africa.
Foing believes that lunar lava tubes will be much bigger than those observed on Earth due to the decreased gravitational pull. The lava tubes would also give some weather protection. They would not only be able to endure cosmic radiation and meteorites, but they would also provide a far more temperate climate than the volatile surface. Temperatures on the Moon’s surface can range from 100 to 400 degrees Kelvin. Because lava tubes reside below the surface and are sheltered from the severe temperatures above, they have a significantly lower temperature range on Earth and the Moon.
However, this type of space exploration is inextricably linked to space colonization. Is it truly our responsibility to make Mars habitable? There are now scientific and legal rules to protect humans from contaminating any existing life forms on Mars. To avoid accidentally wiping off alien life with terrestrial germs or viruses, rovers and spaceships undergo intensive sterilizing procedures.
“We have to be cautious not to infect the layers, which may be liquid, and then spread all of our bacteria there. And it’s now illegal to transport your Earth life to Mars,” Foing explains.
Even though we still have to deal with issues of domain and rights, all of this preparation is not useless for some. The IMA thinks that one day we will construct a lunar base and establish a moon town.
“We’re on the first phase; we’re testing a small moon base in Mauna Loa’s volcanic environment, which is extremely comparable to the moon,” Foing explains. “In the following phase, we will construct a lunar base using basalt from Hawaii, just like we would on the Moon. After that, we’ll contribute to the construction of a lunar base.” That may sound far-fetched, but this effort is supported by NASA and the European Space Agency, both of which want to develop a lunar colony.
Foing expects that the IMA will train ten individuals to live permanently on the Moon before gradually expanding its population to form the first lunar community. While leaving the planet will be difficult, believers and optimists like Foing feel that the future is near.
“It will be a place where some humans will go to reside. I intend to retire on the Moon myself. So maybe in ten or twenty years, I’ll be there and retired!” he exclaims. “And I’ll gaze up at the lovely Earth in the sky.”