Would you be willing to visit Mars… right here on Earth?
Click start to play today’s Spell It, where we leave behind Earth and ‘lunar’ landscapes, and turn our attention to the Red Planet.
The idea of humans going to Mars has been circulating since the late 1940s. Since then, everyone, from US space agency National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa), the Canadian National Space Agency (CNSA), Boeing and Space X have all shared proposals on how they’ll send human missions to Mars. As of today, only robotic landers and rovers have managed to explore Mars – the farthest humans have been able to reach is our moon.
It's because Mars is no joke. Going so far away from the only home we’ve ever known requires much knowledge about how humans can – not just survive – but thrive on the Red Planet. For this reason, people around the world have been using Martian-like landscapes and environments on Earth to simulate life on Mars. Here are some places where faux missions are being held, and scientists are gathering important data on how humans will be able to respond to the challenges of travelling and living in deep space:
Located approximately 8,200 feet above sea level, the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and simulation (HI-SEAS) is a two-storey dome on the Mauna Loa volcano that measures about 1,200 square feet. The solar-powered, geodesic dome gives Nasa-funded researchers a chance to observe how humans respond to living in isolation. The area is well-suited for a Mars simulation project – the volcano, which is the largest in Hawaii, has lava fields that blanket the land around the habitat, creating a rugged, dangerous environment, much like on Mars.
The only undersea research station on Earth, Nasa’s Extreme Environment Missions Operations (NEEMO) sees crews spending as much as three weeks living underwater. The habitat is about 62 feet below the surface, near the coral reefs off Key Largo, in Florida, US. Four aquanauts can live and work in the space at a time. The station has been so successful, many astronauts who eventually went to space, have gone through training there for some time.
Space travel is dark. It’s why the European Space Agency (ESA) set up a deep-space simulation in a labyrinth of caves about 800m below the surface in Sardinia, Italy. Called the Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising human behaviour and performance Skills (CAVES), missions here are often shorter than those above ground because they’re incredibly perilous. Crews with a maximum of six members explore a new world underground, move slowly through a challenging environment, and depend on a buddy system and thorough planning to keep themselves safe.
4. Devon Island
The largest uninhabited island in the world is in the Canadian High Arctic. Devon Island is located in Baffin Bay, and has seen a number of space simulations. Nasa’s Earthy Martian outpost for instance, rests on a rim, overlooking a 22.5km-wide Haughton impact crater. It’s said to be the most Mars-like place on Earth, since it’s a barren, rocky dessert, where temperatures are always above freezing.