Lonely planet: Astronauts to simulate life on Mars for 8 months Tags: Health Mars NASA Science Space USA

Lonely planet: Astronauts to simulate life on Mars for 8 months

RT October 17, 2014 ShortURL

Reuters / NASA / Handout

For eight months, six astronauts will be essentially locked into a small dome in Hawaii as NASA attempts to study the consequences of living the quiet, lonely lifestyle that humans would experience on Mars.

Titled the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS), the experiment will be NASA’s longest Mars-related simulation ever. It also happens to be the first time that a woman, 34-year-old Martha Lenio, is leading a Mars simulation project.

The project is intended to explore various elements that astronauts would have to cope with on a future mission to the Red Planet – including isolation, delayed communication times, lack of sunlight, teamwork, efficiency, and more.

READ MORE: NASA tests hibernation tech for future Mars mission

In fact, NASA’s priority is to conduct a “psychology study on team cohesiveness, our attitudes, and how we stick together,” Lenio told National Geographic.

Lenio added that the living space for the six astronauts is about 1,000 square feet. Inside are two washrooms, a dining area, a work area, a kitchen, and a bedroom for each individual that is essentially a “glorified closet.” There is one window in the entire dome, but looking outside won’t offer much comfort for astronauts: the dome is situated near the Mauna Loa volcano, and the barren landscape looks much like Mars’ own surface.

“The HI-SEAS site presents a remarkably high-fidelity environment for this type of long-duration space study,” University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Kim Binsted, who is also working on the study, said to local KHON2 News. “Looking out the single porthole window, all you can see are lava fields and Mauna Kea in the distance. Once the door is closed, and the faux airlock sealed, the silence and physical separation contribute to the ‘long way from home’ experience of our crew members.”

Astronauts will also be observed by researchers via body movement trackers, cameras, and electronic surveys, KHON2 reported.

Maintaining their health (and sanity) will be a top priority for the astronauts, who will have to make do with food that can stay for two or three years. In terms of water, the astronauts will receive rations of eight liters per day, which they will use for everything from cooking and drinking to showering and cleaning their clothes. An exercise bike and a treadmill are also available in the tiny living quarters.

Although there are clearly limitations that astronauts will have to cope with, Lenio is confident they will be successful. When asked if humans were able travel to Mars right now, she answered simply that they could.

A recent MIT study found the ambitious, privately-funded Mars One mission would encounter serious problems were it to try and establish a permanent human presence on the Red Planet by 2025. Researchers said that humans would begin dying in just a couple of months, since current technology is not where it needs to be for a sustainable presence.


Image from:

Image from:


However, Lenio noted that NASA is not looking to establish a permanent base on Mars, at least not with its first mission.

“NASA and other space agencies around the world are looking at a three-year trip to Mars. So the trip does not have to be completely sustainable yet,” she told National Geographic. “Also, resupplies, or sending supplies ahead separately, are both possible.”

“The study's findings don't faze me. One of my interests is sustainability, and the more sustainable we can make these missions, the better they will be. The better we get at recycling, or turning our waste into soil to grow more food, those are all lessons we can bring back to Earth.”

HI-SEAS is one of several experiments conducted to test humanity's ability to travel to Mars. Last year, a Russian team of astronauts ventured into the US to simulate life on the Red Planet via the international Mars Desert Research Station. Before that, the Mars-500 experiment packed astronauts away for 17 months to simulate a manned flight to the planet.

Elsewhere in the present day, NASA is also moving forward with experiments on deep sleep technology. If successful, the agency could potentially induce hibernation in astronauts for large portions of a six-month trip to Mars. As a result, less food, water, and other supplies would be needed, potentially reducing the mass of a flight by up to 400 tons.

Still, aerospace engineer Mark Schaffer at Spaceworks, which is working with NASA, cautioned that the technology is far from developed.

“We haven't had the need to keep someone in [hibernation] for longer than seven days,” he said earlier this month. “For human Mars missions, we need to push that to 90 days, 180 days. Those are the types of mission flight times we're talking about.”


BLIND MAN SEES AGAIN AFTER 33 YEARS, THANKS TO BIONIC EYE IMPLANT Tags: eye implant retina robotic technology sight blindness

There’s a new invention that can restore sight even to those who have been blind for decadesLarry Hester from North Carolina was one of the first patients to receive the new technology, which gave him a chance to see again, after 33 years of blindness.

Larry Hester lost his sight in his 30s, when he was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease called retinitis pigmentosa. It involves degenerative retinal changes, which lead to the loss of peripheral vision and the so-called night blindness. The disease is hereditary in 60% of cases. There are 1,5 million people worldwide who suffer from retinitis pigmentosa.

Hester is the seventh patient to receive a bionic eye implant Argus II Retinal Prosthesis Device, developed by Second Sight Medical Products, together with North Carolina’s Duke University Eye Center.

The bionic vision technology is based on the transmission of signals to the nerves of the blind person’s retina. A tiny camera embedded in a pair of glasses detects the light and transmits it to a miniature computer, which converts it into electrical signals corresponding to the synthesized image. A wireless implant consisting of 60 electrodes stimulates the optic nerve directly and thus transmits the signals to the brain.

However, bionic vision is more limited – in fact, a person can only distinguish between the light and the dark. Yet, the developers promise to expand the capabilities of the new device in the future.

Despite the fact that the device is not yet able to produce complex visual patterns and allows Larry Hester only to see flashes of light and distinguish some objects from others, it is a true miracle for him and his family. “It’s so basic,” he says in the video. “The light is so basic and probably wouldn’t have significance to anybody else. But to me it’s meaning I can see light. And we can go from here.”“It’s a fairly limited device, but it’s an amazing leap forward,” says retinal expert Dr. Colin McCannel. “It’s not the vision you or I are used to. But for someone who has been in complete darkness it must be amazing to see again. I think it’s absolutely phenomenal.


Anna LeMind is the owner and lead editor of the website, and a staff writer for The Mind Unleashed.

Featured image: Duke Medicine

The post Blind Man Sees Again After 33 Years, Thanks to Bionic Eye Implantappeared first on The Mind Unleashed


Mind-controlled prosthetic arm now a reality Tags: prosthetics robotic mind controlled medical technology

A man in Sweden has become the first recipient of a mind-controlled prosthetic arm that is directly interfaced with muscle, bone and nerves.



Ortiz-Catalan et al., Sci. Trans. Med., 2014.

A Swedish amputee has become the first person in the world to be fitted with a prosthetic that directly interfaces with his bone, muscle and nerves, and can be controlled with his mind, making him what could be considered a true cyborg.

The patient, whose right arm was amputated 10 years ago, received the prosthesis in January 2013.

"We have used osseointegration to create a long-term stable fusion between man and machine, where we have integrated them at different levels," explained lead study author Max Ortiz Catalan, research scientist at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden.

"The artificial arm is directly attached to the skeleton, thus providing mechanical stability. Then the human's biological control system, that is nerves and muscles, is also interfaced to the machine's control system via neuromuscular electrodes. This creates an intimate union between the body and the machine; between biology and mechatronics."

Osseointegration involved surgically implanting and fixing a titanium implant directly into the bone. An extension is then fixed to the implant, which allows the prosthesis to be attached. Electrodes are then implanted directly into the nerves and muscles; these read the electrical signals sent from the brain, which are translated into movements to be executed by the arm.

Although there are sophisticated robotic prostheses currently available commercially, these use non-invasive electrodes placed on the wearer's skin, which limits what they can do. The Swedish patient had, prior to his surgery conducted by associate professor Rickard Brånemark and his colleagues at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Sweden, worn just such a prosthesis.

Since the surgery, he has been able to do his physically demanding job as a truck driver, completing tasks such as clamping his trailer load and operating machinery -- as well as more delicate day-to-day tasks such as handling eggs and tying the laces on his children's skates.

The direct skeletal attachment has allowed an increased range of motion compared to a myoelectric prosthesis, elimination of pressure sores from the socket, and increased sensory feedback from vibrations through the bone. Meanwhile, the implanted electrodes prevent interference from other muscles, and can read a greater number of motor signals directly from the muscle compared to the skin -- meaning a greater degree of control.

The next step is developing feeling. While most of the information is coming from the brain to the prosthetic, the implanted electrodes in the nerves can be used to send information from the prosthetic to the brain. The research team is already working towards this.

"Reliable communication between the prosthesis and the body has been the missing link for the clinical implementation of neural control and sensory feedback, and this is now in place," Ortiz Catalan said.

"So far we have shown that the patient has a long-term stable ability to perceive touch in different locations in the missing hand. Intuitive sensory feedback and control are crucial for interacting with the environment, for example to reliably hold an object despite disturbances or uncertainty. Today, no patient walks around with a prosthesis that provides such information, but we are working towards changing that in the very short term."

The full paper has been recently published and can be read online in the journal Science Translational Medicine. You can see the prosthesis in action in the videos below.

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