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Crammed into a dome with 1 Bathroom, 6 Scientists likely to spend 8 months on freeze-dried Foods: NASA

The project will study the psychological difficulties with living in isolated, confined conditions for an extended period

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Aerial View of NASA. Wikimedia
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Crammed into a dome with one bathroom, six scientists will spend eight months munching on mostly freeze-dried foods — with a rare treat of Spam — and have only their small sleeping quarters to retreat to for solace.

The simulated stay on Mars with a carefully selected crew of researchers embarked on a mission Thursday to gain insight into the psychological toll a similar real-life voyage would have on astronauts. It’s part of a NASA-funded human-behavior experiment that could help the space agency send humans to the red planet in the next 20 years.

The man-made dome that the four men and two women call home is outfitted with futuristic white walls and an elevated sleeping platform on the world’s largest active volcano in Hawaii. The vinyl-covered shelter spans 1,200 square feet, or about the size of a small, two-bedroom house.

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A video released by the group shows the six scientists in matching red polo shirts arriving and entering the dome to farewell handshakes from program associates.

Except for the presence of the white van that brought the group, the scene was reminiscent of the red planet _ the dome set in a barren, rock-strewn and reddish landscape with distant hills giving the feel of a windswept and forbidding environment.

“I’m looking forward to building relationships with my crew,” said mission commander James Bevington, a space scientist. “I fully anticipate coming out with five new best friends.”

They will have no physical contact with people in the outside world and will work with a 20-minute delay in communications with their support crew — the time it would take for an email to reach Earth from Mars.

The project will study the psychological difficulties with living in isolated, confined conditions for an extended period.

NASA hopes to send humans to an asteroid in the 2020s and Mars by the 2030s.

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“We’re hoping to figure out how best to select individual astronauts, how to compose a crew and how to support that crew on long-duration space missions,” said principal investigator Kim Binsted, a University of Hawaii science professor.

The team members include engineers, a computer scientist, a doctoral candidate and a biomedical expert. They were selected from 700 applicants subjected to personality tests, background checks and extensive interviews.

“When I started, my biggest fear was that we were going to be that crew that turned out like Biosphere 2, which wasn’t a very pretty picture,” Bevington said.

The experimental greenhouse-like habitat in Arizona became a debacle in the 1990s. It housed different ecosystems and a crew of eight to try to understand what would be needed for humans to live on other planets. The participants were supposed to grow their own food and recycle their air inside the sealed glass space.

But the experiment soon spiraled out of control, with the carbon dioxide level rising dangerously and plants and animals dying. The crew members grew hungry and squabbled so badly that by the time they emerged two years later, some of them weren’t speaking to each other.

The University of Hawaii operates the dome, called Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, or HI-SEAS, and NASA has dedicated more than $2 million to this stage of the project.

Scientists previously lived in the dome for two other long-term NASA-funded stays — one of them lasting a year, the other eight months — to study food requirements and crew cohesion.

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A number of other Mars simulation projects exist around the world, but one of the chief advantages of the Hawaii experiment is the rugged, Mars-like landscape, on a rocky, red plain below the summit of the world’s largest active volcano, the Big Island’s Mauna Loa.

The dome has a kitchen, laboratory and bathroom, plus small sleeping quarters for each member. Unlike Biosphere 2, it won’t be airtight.

To maintain the crew’s sense of isolation, bundles of food, including some canned goods and snacks, will be dropped off a distance from the dome, and the team members will send a robot to retrieve them.

The participants will not be confined but will wear spacesuits whenever they step outside for geological expeditions, mapping studies or other tasks.

They will wear instruments measuring their moods and proximity to other team members and use virtual reality devices to simulate familiar and comforting surroundings. (IANS)

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NASA Probe Finds Water Locked Inside The Asteroid Bennu

The spacecraft's first orbital insertion is scheduled for December 31, and OSIRIS-REx will remain in orbit until mid-February 2019, when it exits to initiate another series of flybys for the next survey phase

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NASA probe finds water on asteroid Bennu. Pixabay

NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission has found water locked inside the asteroid Bennu — a remnant from early in the formation of the solar system.

Launched in September 2016, OSIRIS-REx is NASA’s first mission to collect sample from an asteroid.

Data obtained from the spacecraft’s two spectrometers, the OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS) and the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES) reveal the presence of molecules that contain oxygen and hydrogen atoms bonded together, known as “hydroxyls”.

These hydroxyl groups exist globally across the asteroid in water-bearing clay minerals, meaning that at some point Bennu’s rocky material interacted with water.

While Bennu itself is too small to have ever hosted liquid water, the finding does indicate that liquid water was present at some time on Bennu’s parent body, a much larger asteroid, NASA said in a statement on Monday.

“The presence of hydrated minerals across the asteroid confirms that Bennu, a remnant from early in the formation of the solar system, is an excellent specimen for the OSIRIS-REx mission to study the composition of primitive volatiles and organics,” said Amy Simon from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

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Launched in September 2016, OSIRIS-REx is NASA’s first mission to collect sample from an asteroid. Flickr

“When samples of this material are returned by the mission to Earth in 2023, scientists will receive a treasure trove of new information about the history and evolution of our solar system,” Simon added.

After travelling through space for more than two years and over two billion kilometres, OSIRIS-REx spacecraft reached Bennu on December 3.

The mission is currently performing a preliminary survey of the asteroid, flying the spacecraft in passes over Bennu’s north pole, equator, and south pole at ranges as close as 4.4 miles (7 km) to better determine the asteroid’s mass.

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The spacecraft’s first orbital insertion is scheduled for December 31, and OSIRIS-REx will remain in orbit until mid-February 2019, when it exits to initiate another series of flybys for the next survey phase.

During the first orbital phase, the spacecraft will orbit the asteroid at a range of 0.9 miles (1.4 km) to 1.24 miles (2.0 km) from the centre of Bennu – setting new records for the smallest body ever orbited by a spacecraft and the closest orbit of a planetary body by any spacecraft. (IANS)