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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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New Gamma-Ray Collection Named After Hulk, Godzilla: NASA

Since 2008, Fermi's Large Area Telescope (LAT) has been scanning the entire sky each day, mapping and measuring sources of gamma rays, the highest-energy light in the universe.

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NASA names new gamma-ray constellations after Godzilla, Hulk. Pixabay

NASA has used certain characters from modern myths such as the “Hulk” and “Godzilla” to name its new set of 21 gamma-ray constellations constructed in celebration of its Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope’s 10th year of operations.

Fermi has mapped about 3,000 gamma-ray sources — 10 times the number known before its launch and comparable to the number of bright stars in the traditional constellations.

“For the first time ever, the number of known gamma-ray sources was comparable to the number of bright stars, so we thought a new set of constellations was a great way to illustrate the point,” NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center’s Elizabeth Ferrara who led the constellation project said in a statement.

Gamma-ray constellation
The background shows the gamma-ray sky as mapped by Fermi. The prominent reddish band is the plane of our own galaxy, the Milky Way; brighter colors indicate brighter gamma-ray sources. NASA

 

“Developing these unofficial constellations was a fun way to highlight a decade of Fermi’s accomplishments,” Julie McEnery, the Fermi project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center said.

Comic book fans who know the backstory of Hulk, the big, green, angry alter ego of Bruce Banner, whose experiments with gamma rays went terribly wrong, could easily appreciate NASA’s pick in naming one of its constellations.

Gamma rays are the strongest form of light. They pack enough punch to convert into matter under the right circumstances, a transformation both Banner and the Hulk would certainly appreciate.

NASA’s choice of Godzilla constellation is linked to its trademark weapon “heat ray,” a fiery jet. This bears at least a passing resemblance to gamma-ray jets associated with black holes and neutron stars.

Gamma-ray constellation
NASA names new gamma-ray constellations after Godzilla, Hulk

 

Godzilla ranks as one of cinema’s most famous monsters and is among the most recognisable symbols of Japanese popular culture.

In the original 1954 movie, nuclear weapons tests disturb the creature’s deep ocean habitat, and it emerges from the sea to wreak havoc in Japan.

The 21 gamma-ray constellations also include famous landmarks — such as Sweden’s recovered warship, Vasa, the Washington Monument and Mount Fuji in Japan — in countries contributing to Fermi science.

Since 2008, Fermi’s Large Area Telescope (LAT) has been scanning the entire sky each day, mapping and measuring sources of gamma rays, the highest-energy light in the universe.

Also Read: NASA Plans For Science Payloads For Delivery To Moon

The emission may come from pulsars, nova outbursts, the debris of supernova explosions and giant gamma-ray bubbles located in our own galaxy, or supermassive black holes and gamma-ray bursts — the most powerful explosions in the cosmos — in others.

“Fermi is still going strong, and we are now preparing a new all-sky LAT catalog,” said Jean Ballet, a Fermi team member at the French Atomic Energy Commission in Saclay.

“This will add about 2,000 sources, many varying greatly in brightness, further enriching these constellations and enlivening the high-energy sky!” (IANS)