Waterloo alum Dr. Martha Lenio embarks on Mars Mission … in Hawaii

Waterloo engineering alumnus Dr. Martha Lenio is a member of a team of six pseudo-astronauts that have committed the next eight months of their lives to simulating an expedition to Mars.

The volcanic slopes of Mauna Loa, Hawaii are where NASA’s Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) program is located. While there, Lenio and other astronauts will simulate a Mars expedition for NASA to study group interaction and productivity.

The other team members accompanying Lenio are graduate students Jocelyn Dunn and Sophie Milam, microbiologist Neil Scheibcell, NASA aerospace engineer Allen Mirkadyrov, and engineer Zak Wilson.

While in Mauna Loa, she and five other researchers will carry out research of their own. Her mission while in the HI-SEAS program will be to study anaerobic composting — composting without the use of oxygen — and plant growth with LED lights.

While the researchers carry out their experiments, NASA intends to monitor team dynamics, growth, habitation, and cognition to measure group performance. NASA is also conducting a food study throughout the expedition to study the group’s sustained interaction with rationed food.

NASA made a statement available in their FAQ, stating that:

“This research is directly applicable to situations with small groups of people in remote, isolated environments such as research outposts and field camps, where time and energy investment in food preparation has to be balanced against the simplicity and convenience of instant meals.”

Lenio and her team touched down on Mauna Loa, Hawaii Oct. 7 to complete their pre-mission cognitive training. The official mission began Oct. 15.

She and five other researchers will live in an abandoned quarry at about 8,000 feet on the northern slope of the Mauna Loa volcano. The living environment will be a mere 13,570 cubic feet for the hexad and features a kitchen, sleeping quarters, bathroom, dining area, common work space, exercise area, workshop, and lab.

While on the expedition, the group will simulate as many aspects of a mission on Mars as possible. Researchers will even sport a space suit when working outside of the Hab.

Throughout the expedition, Lenio will write about her experiences in her blog <em>Mars on Mars - Where Mars is a Dome in Hawaii </em>(&ldquo;Mars&rdquo; is a familial nickname for Lenio).

Going into the experiment, Lenio addressed some concerns for the workload going into HI-SEAS.

Lenio wrote: &ldquo;The studies have some interesting goals, but I can see survey fatigue already becoming an issue over eight months. There are a lot. There is also wearable electronics for data collection on our stress levels, collection of saliva samples, and mandatory computer game playing. It&rsquo;s all pretty new still, but I think as we get more used to the routine, and what each experiment is trying to achieve, I&rsquo;ll have some more interesting commentary on it all.&rdquo;

The HI-SEAS program is in its third iteration, despite the fact that NASA does not yet have a scheduled flight to Mars. NASA, however, stated that &ldquo;[it] recognizes that such a mission will take place sooner or later and that [NASA] should be prepared for it.&rdquo;