Sinking In: Day 5 of 365 on NASA’s Simulated Mars


When the experts assure you that something is absolutely, positively going to go a certain way, start making a backup plan.

It’s mission day 5. Blooking out 2 smally now, according to folks in the know, the media should have forgotten about the six simulated astronauts in a 1000 square-foot dome on the barren hillside of a volcano somewhere in the Pacific. While we’re up here getting our science on, the world is moving on. Police are getting shot in Chicago.* Joe Biden is giving speeches.** In the Russian arctic, a group of scientists not so different from us is being besieged by polar bears.

Predictably, five days after we closed the hatch behind us and said goodbye to the world, my crewmates and I landed on IFSL.

The timing of this is uncanny. For the first few days in the dome, I didn’t feel like we were on Mars. We weren’t on Earth, exactly, either. We were in some sort of strange neither-world. Now, finally, it’s beginning to feel a lot more Martian.

I’ll admit: I was beginning to worry a little. During my last simulated space mission, there was no doubt in ANYONE’s mind: we were in SPACE. This immersive illusion was brought about by a combination of light, sound and rather impressive building-vibration. Back in April, four of us – an ISS vehicle controller, an air force battle commander, a ground controller for the Spitzer Space Telescope and me, Dr. G — walked into a vessel the size of two college dorm rooms and “blasted off” from Johnson Space Center in Houston.

When they sealed HERA’s outer hatch, we sat down and buckled in. Through our headsets we were given clearance to launch. This announcement was followed by the sound of stage one rocket engines and a low-frequency hum. Then, as —> Read More