MARS ON EARTH

Hawaii, Big Island. Six researchers have been living for eight months in a dome in the crater of volcano Mauna Loa for a mission called HI-SEAS , whose purpose was to monitor human psychological response to confinement in an unearthly environment, in perspective of the launch of scientific trips to Mars involving human beings.

During the whole time of the HI-SEAS mission (Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation), financed by NASA and organized by the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the researchers exited the dome only wearing space suits with oxygen ventilation for brief excursions, and they were able to communicate with the rest of the world only by email or voxer messages, with a 20 minute-delay to simulate the real Mars-Earth communication gap.

The essay aims at addressing the broad questions that a mission like this naturally triggers, related to the meaning of human exploration to other planets and the need to protect life on earth in the meantime.

Native Hawaiians are protesting against the construction of a fourteenth giant telescope on the other big volcano of the island, Mauna Kea. The natives’ motivations to protest are linked to the sacred nature of the land and to the polluting agents, mercury among them, used to clean the telescopes and easily penetrating into the acquires.

The fact that their ancestors, not so differently from nowadays astronauts, were some of the first to adventure for risky explorations in the widely unknown Pacific Ocean, using the stars to find orientation, speaks for the dual nature of human beings, divided between the desire to go beyond their limits and the need to preserve what is naturally available to them.