Mars simulation is canceled after crew member withdraws

Photo courtesy of UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII The Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation site on Mauna Loa.

Participants in the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Mars simulation on Mauna Loa will be staying Earthside after a crew member withdrew, prompting the exercise’s cancellation less than two weeks after it started.

The withdrawal followed a suspension of the simulation Feb. 19 when a male crew member of the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation was transported by ambulance to Hilo Medical Center. The man, who has not been named, was observed for a few hours and released, according to UH, which hasn’t released additional information.

Following the incident, the four crew members — two women and two men — exited the dome in which they were supposed to spend eight months. The simulation started four days prior.

Kim Binsted, HI-SEAS principal investigator, said the dome will be inspected in response to the incident, but she couldn’t comment about what prompted the hospital visit. She said the crew member was given a clean bill of health.

“We have to protect their privacy,” Binsted said.

In addition, she declined to say which crew member withdrew.

In response, UH and NASA institutional review boards will conduct their own investigations per simulation protocol.

Binsted said those reviews will determine what steps UH will have to take to continue the simulations, which are in their sixth year.

During the simulations, crew members are required to wear space suits when venturing outside, and all communications are placed on a 20-minute delay, to reflect challenges of a real mission to Mars.

Binsted said crew members have an “urgency phone” to get around that protocol for emergencies. That was used in this incident, she said.

Binsted said injuries during past simulations have been minor and none required a hospital visit. A Hilo doctor is on call if needed, she said.

The dome is located at 8,200 feet above sea level and is accessed from the Daniel K. Inouye Highway. Binsted said an ambulance was able to reach the dome.

Several of the crew members started blogs about the simulation, but none had written anything about the cancellation as of Monday afternoon.

Calum Hervieu, one of the participants, said via Facebook that he would not be speaking about the mission at this time.

Others didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Binsted said they will restart after the investigation with a new crew.

Each mission has alternates, but those aren’t used after a simulation begins, she said.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.