Trading Red Rocks for the Red Planet
Andrzej Stewart is swapping his post on Space Systems’ Mission Support Area console for an outpost on Mars. Well, a simulated outpost, that is.
Andrzej was selected as one of six candidates to participate in HI-SEAS IV, a year-long mission conducted by the University of Hawaii in cooperation with NASA to study what life would be like for astronauts on Mars. He’ll be leaving the Red Rocks at Space Systems’ Denver, Colorado, campus and heading to Hawaii later this month in pursuit of a lifelong dream.
“I want to be an astronaut,” says Andrzej. “People think of astronauts as launching aboard a rocket or floating in deep space. But there’s more to it. HI-SEAS will give me a taste of the whole package and what it really takes to live in a closed habitat.”
HI-SEAS, or Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, provides a research opportunity to study the energy, water and consumption needs of astronauts on Mars; the physiological, social and physical effects of living in a closed habitat; and other science questions, such as how well vegetables and other food sources can be grown in a controlled environment away from Earth. Three shorter HI-SEAS missions have been completed, but HI-SEAS IV is the longest mission to date and the first full-year study of its kind to be sponsored by NASA.
Anrdrzej was previously involved in a two-week closed habitat mission with NASA’s Human Exploration Research Analogue (HERA) program. A HERA colleague suggested he apply for HI-SEAS, and he was selected for the mission after completing a rigorous wilderness expedition with his fellow crew-mates in the Grand Tetons this June.
Life on “Mars”
Starting Aug. 28, Andrzej will officially begin his next adventure as HI-SEAS IV kicks off. So what can he and the other crew members expect over the next 365 days? First off, they’ll be staying in a 993-square-foot dome in the upper elevations of an abandoned quarry on the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii. The two-story habitat includes a kitchen, dining area, bathroom, lab, exercise space and six bedrooms. There is also a 160-square-foot attached workshop converted from an old steel shipping container.
Andrzej notes that the crew members will be involved in scientific, physical and psychological research tasks, but that there will also be “housekeeping” items, such as keeping the habitat clean, maintaining energy and water supplies, working out, making meals and laundering clothes.
Andrzej, who is the chief engineer for the mission, is still learning what his specific duties will be, but he expects to maintain the electrical systems and many computer networks as well as managing a limited water supply.
Another major component of the study? Simulating the 20-minute communication delay from space to Earth to make the crew members’ year away as realistic as possible.
“Working in the Mission Support Area (MSA) where we pilot spacecraft like Juno and MAVEN, I know first-hand that this delay is exactly what it would be like to communicate while on Mars. Nothing is in real time,” says Andrzej. “When we’re operating these spacecraft, the information we receive is always delayed.”
The crew will receive news headlines, TV shows and other forms of entertainment on a delayed schedule. Additionally, they will be cut off from access to social media to help ensure they don’t have access to real-time communication vehicles.
Although it’s a closed habitat, the group will leave the habitat periodically in simulation space suits to conduct geological missions.
“During my two-week mission with HERA, we couldn’t leave at all and I didn’t see the outside world,” remarks Andrzej. “But it didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. I’ve always been an organized person and everything in the habitat had a defined place, so I found it very comforting.”
An Aspiring Astronaut’s Journey
Andrzej knows that it will be challenging to take on this year-long mission, especially leaving behind his wife, who also works at Space Systems in the Mission Support Area.
“My wife also wants to be an astronaut, so she has been very understanding. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
NASA looks for individuals with long deployment experience when they make astronaut selections. Military experience, remote research camps and missions such as HI-SEAS are all good preparation for the demands of astronaut life. Andrzej also credits Lockheed Martin with the opportunities he’s been afforded that will help him on his quest.
“I’m thankful for my time at Lockheed. There aren’t many places where I would have been able to do the things I’ve done in my career,” Andrzej says. “It’s been a pleasure working in the MSA. I’ve been able to get a lot of experience exploring Mars and the solar system through the operations of spacecraft such as MRO, MAVEN, and Juno, and the Spitzer Space Telescope.”
For Andrzej, HI-SEAS is how he will impact the future of human spaceflight.
“If I can help contribute to making [deep space] journeys easier for our future astronauts, I’m happy to be a part of it,” he says. “For me, it’s one step closer to being a real astronaut. I’m also excited to put on a space suit for the first time.”
To follow along with Andrzej’s HI-SEAS adventures, check out his blog – he’ll be updating it throughout the year.