A leading force for the use of simulation, NASA just completed a ground-breaking study on the affects of a year long simulated experiment to prepare for a mission to Mars. Have a simulation non-believer in your institution? Share this story below with them to show how high stakes organizations use simulation to learn, improve, train, and test.
One year ago, six volunteers—an astrobiologist, a physicist, a pilot, an architect, a journalist, and a soil scientist — entered a 36-by-20 foot dome, located near a barren volcano in Hawaii, to simulate what living conditions would be like on Mars. This week they re-emerged from their year-long isolation.
“The goal of HI-SEAS is to test what it would be like for people to live on Mars, and what the project designers call “team performance and cohesion” — or how a group of strangers might handle being stuck together for 12 months.
Asked what she learned about how to cope with living and working with the same five people all the time, Heinicke said emergencies play a surprising role in helping people get along. At one point, for example, the system for gathering and treating water broke. To simulate life on Mars, the team received water and food only every two and four months, respectively. “Obviously, we need water, so we all needed to work on that as a group,” Heinicke recalled.
“If you had some arguments within the group… it really helps to have an emergency to work on together, because everyone has new motivation,” she said. The study designers described the small dome where the crew lived as a “habitat,” writing in a press release: “It is an open concept design that includes common areas such as kitchen, dining, bathroom with shower, lab, exercise, and work spaces. A second floor loft spans an area of 424 square feet and includes six separate bedrooms and a half bath.
In addition, a 160 square foot workshop converted from a 20 foot long steel shipping container is attached to the habitat.” Living in such close quarters is difficult. Asked whether the experience left her with any close friends, Heinicke was diplomatic. “Um, well, three of them I’m definitely going to stay in very close contact with,” she said.”
For us it’s easy to see how NASA has proven the effectiveness of simulation with this, and countless other simulated training programs.