Mars isolation test will end this weekend after 8 months

Back in January, we reported that a crew was going to spend 8 months living in isolation in a location that simulated the Mars environment. This isolation is a test ahead of future missions to Mars, where humans will spend large amounts of time in cramped quarters with a small group of other people. This crew is scheduled to exit their accommodations this upcoming Sunday.

We're still years away from sending humans to Mars, and there's a lot to be accomplished during these years. One aspect of work involves where humans will live once they reach the planet and how they will sustain themselves, as well as how they will handle it psychologically. This study is a step in the direction of getting those answers, providing some vital data on remote cohabitation that NASA can use in the future.

The team, which is composed of two women and four men, have been living in a barren part of a Hawaii volcano, which presents a landscape similar to what you'd get in Mars. These subjects are living on the kind of packaged, freeze-dried food astronauts would survive on — for a while, at least — in space, as well as having very limited contact with the outside world (all communication had a huge 20 minute delay to simulate passing signals from Earth to Mars).

The key point of this test is seeing how the crew held up mentally, and it won't rely just on their own reported experiences. The team members have been given various tasks that will help researchers make notes about things like their stress levels, including their moods, how close or far away they stayed from each other, and whatever can be discerned from their tone of voice.

The structure in which they lived was a mere 1200-square-feet, or about the size of a small two-bedroom apartment.

Ultimately, the data will help NASA determine which candidates are best to send out on these missions; compatibility between crew members and resistance to isolation are key elements for feature teams like this. Information about how this specific crew handled their time in isolation hasn't been provided yet.