A crew member walks on Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, site of the mock Mars mission. (AP)

A crew member walks on Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, site of the mock Mars mission. (AP)

Crew members from HI-SEAS IV walk the Mars-like terrain of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa. (HI-SEAS)

Crew members from HI-SEAS IV walk the Mars-like terrain of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa. (HI-SEAS)

A thin plastic material separates the crew from the

A thin plastic material separates the crew from the "real" world. (HI-SEAS)

The mock mission is just one part of a big plan for the exploration of Mars. (NASA)

The mock mission is just one part of a big plan for the exploration of Mars. (NASA)

An image provided by NASA shows the planet Mars.

An image provided by NASA shows the planet Mars.

Pretend Mars

Posted: May 1, 2017

Six scientists step into their new home—a white, shiny dome where they will live for eight months. The dome is about the size of a small house. To get some solitude, the scientists will have to hide out in their tiny sleeping quarters. For munching, they will have mostly freeze-dried food—with a rare treat of Spam (canned meat). In a way, they are taking a very long test. The test will help show what it would be like to live on Mars.

People at NASA hope humans will travel to Mars within the next 20 years. Travelers to Mars would probably live in structures as small as this one. The red planet even looks kind of like the spot where the white dome perches—a rocky, red plain below the summit of the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii. Before the Mars journeys, NASA scientists want to find out: Can people live together well for a long time in such a small space? What kinds of people will make the best team?

Seven hundred people applied to join the experiment. Of the six people chosen, two are women. Four are men. Besides sleeping quarters, the dome they will live in has a kitchen, laboratory, and one bathroom.

The scientists will probably feel very crowded. But at the same time, they will feel all alone—separated from the outside world. Bundles of food will be dropped off at a distance outside the dome. The team members will send a robot to pick them up. When scientists send messages to their support crew and family, the messages won’t arrive for 20 minutes. That’s how long it would take for an email to get from Earth to Mars.

James Bevington, a space scientist, is commanding the mission. “I'm looking forward to building relationships with my crew,” he says. “I fully anticipate coming out with five new best friends.” Will Mr. Bevington’s hopes come true?