Sheyna Gifford
Sheyna Gifford

This is a big week for everyone's favorite red planet. On Monday, NASA scientists revealed new evidence that liquid water is flowing on Mars. And Friday brings the premiere of Ridley Scott's latest film, The Martian, which follows Matt Damon's fight for survival as a stranded astronaut on the planet.

Those obsessed with Mars though don't need to fix their eyes on the skies or the big screen for a taste of the planet. They can turn their gaze towards the Pacific Ocean where six scientists are already living out life as they would on the fourth planet from the sun.

exploring the volcano, photos by Sheyna Gifford
Christiane Heinicke exploring the volcano, photo by Sheyna Gifford, MD

These look like photos from an expedition to Mars or stills from Ridley's film, but they are actually photos of scientists who have devoted a year of their lives to exploring what a Martian mission might take. HI-SEAS, or the Hawaiian Space Exploration Analog and Simulation is a year-long study on how to keep astronauts happy and healthy on what would be a lengthy space mission.

The scientists have sealed themselves in a white dome on the side of the Big Island's Mauna Loa volcano. Every detail replicates their Mars experience, from the 20-minute delay on all electronic communications, to donning full space suits when they leave the tent.

photo by Sheyna Gifford
photo by Sheyna Gifford, MD

This is not the first analog mission to study the effects of freeze-dried food and close quarters on the human body. It's the fourth HI-SEAS mission in the last two years. The subjects from the last mission emerged this spring after eight months in the simulation.


The current mission is the longest to date; the six crew members will live on Hawaii's version of Mars for a full year. You might be asking yourself: how on earth do you entertain yourself shut in a tent with five other people for an entire year? Some are reading books. Others spend their free hours on an X box. And all of them are blogging, which is where we found the photos that are included in this post with "astronaut" Sheyna Gifford's permission.

If you loved the highly technical novel by Andy Weir that inspired Ridley Scott's The Martian film, you might want to check out the crew's chronicling of their own life on Mars. Five are in English and one is in German. Hopefully, their stories will be less harrowing than Weir's tale.


Cara Rose DeFabio is a pop addicted, emoji fluent, transmedia artist, focusing on live events as an experience designer for Real Future.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter