Mission Support Description (author: Brian Shiro)
A team of approximately 40 volunteers from around the world serves as HI-SEAS Mission Support, interacting with the crew through an imposed one-way 20-minute communications latency to provide Mars-like mission constraints. Mission Support volunteers keep the mission running smoothly
First Tier Support (FTS)
FTS is composed of 20 volunteers located in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Europe. Most are experienced mission support team members from other Mars analog or actual space missions. As the primary interface with the crew for routine communications during three daily 4-hour shift periods from 8am-8pm Hawaii Standard Time, FTS acknowledges emails in a timely fashion (within 30 minutes), reviews EVA plans, reads and files the crew’s daily reports, and asks follow-up questions as needed. FTS will notify Second Tier Support (STS) of any logistical requirements or other matters requiring decision-making authority such as resupplies or repairs.
Second Tier Support (STS)
STS is composed of 7 principal investigators, co-investigators, and collaborators on the HI-SEAS research program who are located in the U.S. and New Zealand. They are very familiar with all aspects of the study, including research procedures, permitting restrictions, safety procedures, budgets, contracts, and other constraints. As such, STS has considerable decision-making authority regarding the mission and must be consulted for any non-routine issues. STS members are on call 24 hours per day, 7 days per week and will acknowledge emails within 2 hours.
Medical Support (MS)
MS consists of an emergency medicine physician and a psychologist, with backup physicians and EMT responders located in Hilo, Hawaii. MS is available on call 24 hours per day, 7 days per week and will respond to emergencies immediately, as well as read and respond to all crew medical reports and queries.
Engineering Support (ES)
ES, also known as the Systems Group, is a group of 9 technical experts who helped design and construct the habitat. They are available to troubleshoot any problems that arise with the sensor, network, power, water, and other systems at the habitat. They coordinate the logistics of resupply and waste removal. The group also includes Chief Engineers from previous HI-SEAS crews who provide important perspective on the day-to-day operational aspects of maintaining the habitat.
Mission Support Communications
A web-based project management tool called Basecamp facilitates communication between Mission Support and the crew. Its features include searchable discussion threads, file sharing, tasking, to-do lists, and calendars. The crew interacts with Basecamp via their time-delayed email accounts supplied by NASA. They do not have access to the graphical user interface of the web or mobile applications like the Mission Support team. The crew can use an unblocked computer in the habitat to get file attachments shared through Basecamp. Currently, all routine interactions are text-based, although we have tested some asynchronous voice-based applications as well.
Crewmembers are allowed to bring media such as music, TV shows, and movies with them on their missions. However, they inevitably tire of the limited selection and ask Mission Support to supply fresh entertainment content. For these larger files, Mission Support places the content in a Dropbox folder where the crew can get them. The crew also shares videos they produce for outreach or social media via this Dropbox fiolder.
STS Mission Support Procedures
There are three 4-hour FTS shifts per day starting at 8:00am, 12:00pm, and 4:00pm Hawaii Standard Time. On the weekends, we omit the first shift to allow the crews a chance to sleep in if they wish and to break up the monotony of the mission.
The FTS volunteer designated for each shift signs on through an established Basecamp thread. The first shift person of the day usually wishes the crew a good morning and may share a bit of news from back on Earth. The crew’s designated HABCOM for the day then acknowledges the sign-on and gives a brief update of their situation and their upcoming plans for that day. FTS will then acknowledge receipt of this message and standby for any other communications from the crew. Meanwhile, the FTS person will also check habitat sensor telemetry to monitor the current power, water, carbon dioxide, temperature, and weather conditions. A “SITREP” website collects this information and provides a convenient central place to access it. If there is a pause of more than two hours without hearing from the Crew, FTS will ask them for a comm check.
Throughout the day, the crew may contact Mission Support with various requests. They may ask for a website, a journal paper, or some other file. Mission Support then supplies it to them. The crew may submit an EVA request, which the FTS person will review and either approve or refer to STS for approval. All EVA request should be submitted by the crew at least 18 hours in advance of the proposed EVA. Proposed EVAs that must be referred to STS include those expected to: take longer than two hours, bring the crew close to the Army’s Pohakuloa Training Area, involve lava tubes, approach pits, or take the crew out of radio contact with the habitat. FTS personnel have the authority to put any activity (including an EVA) on hold until it gets STS approval, even if it is not explicitly listed as one that requires such approval. During EVA operations, the crew’s HABCOM serves as the sole point of contact with FTS, reporting the start and end of EVA operations, as well as any relevant updates during the EVA. FTS acknowledges all communications from the HABCOM.
In the evenings, the crew submits Engineering Reports, Science Reports, and Daily Reports. If this occurs during the third shift, the third FTS person of the day will review such reports; otherwise, the first FTS person the next day will do so. At times of shift changes, the new FTS volunteer signs on to the Basecamp thread, and after seeing that person’s sign-on, the outgoing FTS volunteer then signs out, ensuring continuous coverage at all times. In this exchange, the two FTS people may exchange information about what has transpired on the previous shift and any overlapping tasks or issues. At all times, FTS treats crew communications as confidential and does not share them outside the Mission Support team.
In parallel to the FTS activities describe above, each morning at 8:00am Hawaii Standard Time, that day’s STS volunteer signs on to a designated thread in Basecamp, acknowledging that he or she will be standing by throughout the day if needed. The STS person also monitors Basecamp discussions and interjects when needed or when asked.
Loss of Communications
If crew has not responded to communications for more than 2 hours during waking hours, Mission Support shall do the following:
- Send email directly to crew members asking status of their communication.
- Wait 50 minutes for response. During this time check habitat sensors and see if there are any power outages or other potential issues.
- If no response, send text message to crew emergency phone (do not call) and inquire status.
- If no response, contact STS and indicate a possible communication outage. Pass on any relevant data.
Mission Support Management
The Mission Support team holds monthly or bimonthly teleconference calls among themselves to share best practices and air any concerns. This helps the volunteers to connect on a more personal level and to learn from one another. Since FTS personnel interact with the crew more than STS, they are in a good position to advocate for the crew to ensure that the crew’s needs and priorities are well understood by the HI-SEAS management team. The Mission Support team developed its own patch inspired by NASA Mission Control patches, which provided a sense of pride and belonging to the group. We also provide the volunteers with HI-SEAS shirts, patches, and participation certificates to recognize their contributions. This helps maintain motivation of the volunteers through the long months of the missions.