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A group of scientists has created a way for us to prepare to live in colonies in rocky environments like Mars and the Moon. The “training” is being carried out in lava tunnels and caverns do volcano Mauna Loa, in Hawaii, in the United States, and has the mission of conducting research in an environment considered hostile while testing its limits, as they travel through uneven volcanic terrain and withstand physical restrictions aboard bulky and heavy clothing.

The Mauna Loa research station is the only one in the American state and is managed by the Moon Base Alliance (IMBA), an international association that has the project of developing the first lunar base. The research has gathered essential data on the geology and lava tube ecosystems, in addition to highlighting the difficulties of conducting scientific research in extreme environments.

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According to Michaela Musilova, commander of the crew and director of the field research called “Hawaii, Analog Simulation of Space exploration”Or the acronym in English Hi-SEAS, teams with a maximum of six crew members live in a lava dome habitat for weeks or months and have shared tasks as needed, regardless of the position of each. Food, water and energy are limited, imitating exactly what it would be like on Mars or the Moon. Wearing protective clothing, helmets and life support is mandatory to travel around the place.

"I have performed almost 30 analog missions there since 2018," the commander told Live Science magazine. "We have to prepare for everything in as much detail as possible, because in space many things can go wrong, even the smallest things can affect the mission and cost someone's life," explained she, who made available a presentation on the mission at the 52nd annual Lunar and Planetary Conference (LPSC).

Erupting volcano in Indonesia. Image: Shutterstock
Hawaii volcano can help train humans to live on Mars. Image: Shutterstock

Hi-SEAS has partnered with NASA to study extremophiles, which are organisms that thrive under extreme conditions. These organisms are essential to find signs of life in the lava tubes of Mars or the Moon. That is why studying the tubes in the volcanic archipelago of Hawaii is so important, since it can bring clues about the possibility of extraterrestrial life, pointing out behavioral factors and survival.

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A survey led by women

A curiosity is that the mission is formed largely by women. The research is part of the Sensoria program, which aims to support underrepresented groups in the space sector and has decided to put professionals in the field at the head of the team.

“All of our missions will be led by women and the majority of women. We, of course, will welcome our male colleagues with open arms, but we believe that women need to be placed at the center of our shared vision for space exploration, that women need to have a platform for professional development, research and training opportunities ”, Sensoria bioengineer and cofounder JJ Hastings told the website Space.

Physical and psychological cost

Despite the incredible and curious research, study reports have taken scientists' physical and mental efforts into account. The care with samples that can be easily contaminated and the use of heavy equipment suggest an exhaustion making everything even more challenging. According to Musilova, without the proper attire, the professional “may take hours to collect certain samples” due to the sensitivity of the material, in contrast, space clothing can hamper movements.

“You add a space suit. It restricts your movement and vision, you can only bend your head or rotate it a lot, because of the helmet. You can only bend over and kneel on the floor, because of the way the life support system is attached to the helmet with the backpack. Therefore, you are very limited in what you can do ”, explains the director who, despite the obstacles, understands that research is necessary.

"The more we prepare on Earth for what we plan to do in space, the better," he concluded.

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