Doing Science on Simulated Mars

by Kate Greene

The crew’s first meal together in the Mars habitat. From L: Oleg Abramov, Angelo Vermeulen, Kate Greene, Yajaira Sierra and Simon Engler. Photo by Sian Proctor

The crew’s first meal together in the Mars habitat. From L: Oleg Abramov, Angelo Vermeulen, Kate Greene, Yajaira Sierra and Simon Engler. Photo by Sian Proctor

I haven’t been sleeping well. Or at least not as well as I slept before the mission. I know because I keep track of my sleep with a device that straps to my forehead and sends data about my brain activity, eye movements and facial muscle twitches to a souped-up alarm clock near my bed. The system is called Zeo Personal Sleep Manager, and I’ve convinced my fellow crew mates to use it too. The sleep monitoring is for a research project I’m conducting while here on simulated Mars. The crew has also been filling out sleep surveys and will soon endure a dose of bright, blue-white light on various mornings throughout the mission. And they will take a computer-based cognitive assessment test once a month. To my relief, they’ve been real sports about the whole thing.

All of us came to HI-SEAS with our own projects. Research keeps us busy during the four months, and it mimics the activity of astronauts on an actual Mars mission, who’d likely be studying Martian geology, collecting psychological and physiological data, and keeping up with various engineering tasks. This week, as the main HI-SEAS food study ramped up, the crew also rolled out some of our own projects.

Yajaira Sierra-Sastre is the crew scientist and biologist. She’s interested in the microbes that grow on leftovers as well as surfaces in the habitat. Yajaira’s also exploring microbes on textiles. In one collection of studies, the crew will wear and fill out surveys about socks, gloves, underwear, sheets and towels, all with anti-microbial coatings, from a company called Cupron. In two other textile studies, which began a few days ago, Yajaira asked us to wear prototype exercise T-shirts and pajama tops, some with antimicrobial coatings and some without. We are to wear each garment for its intended use as long as we can stand it. All the while, we record our thoughts via surveys.

NASA is sponsoring the exercise- and sleep-wear studies. And one of the most exciting aspects about them, to me, is that they are identical to those that astronauts on the International Space Station are currently involved in. It takes less space, uses fewer resources, and costs less to send up one pair of super pajamas for a whole mission than to send multiple pairs that would need frequent laundering. NASA wants to know which are the best. I’ll let you know how long I can go with this particular pajama top, which, by the way, might be my favorite pajama top ever.

To finish reading Kate’s blog post and to see pictures from the mission click here: Doing Science on Simulated Mars