A recent mission atop a Hawaiian volcano shows humans still have much to learn before they set foot on another world.
The drive to the little white dome on the northern slope of Mauna Loa is a bumpy one. Mauna Loa, the “Long Mountain,” is a colossal volcano that covers half of the island of Hawaii. The rocky terrain, rusty brown and deep red, crunches beneath car tires and jostles passengers. Up there, more than 8,000 feet above sea level and many miles away from the sounds of civilization, it doesn’t feel like Earth. It feels like another planet. Like Mars.
For the past five years, small groups of people have made this drive and moved into the dome, known as a habitat. Their job is to pretend that they really are on Mars, and then spend months living like it. The goal, for the researchers who send them there, is to figure out how human beings would do on a mission to the real thing.