“At this point, because it’s taken so long to sort out the reviews and the funding, if we were to start recruiting now, we wouldn’t be able to even start a mission for another four months, and then there’d be the eight-month mission, and then there’d be the data analysis after that,” Binsted said. “Realistically, we wouldn’t have been able to get the results for roughly two years, and they wanted our results sooner than that.”
Instead, NASA asked Binsted and her team to spend the next year analyzing the data that has accumulated over the six missions, said Jenn Fogarty, the chief scientist at NASA’s Human Research Program, the office that provides financial grants to HI-SEAS.
After that, Binsted hopes to apply for another round of funding and organize another NASA-funded Mars simulation in 2020.
I asked Binsted whether she was disappointed that the simulations are over for now. “It’s actually a bit of a relief, to be honest,” Binsted said. Running back-to-back simulations was challenging and time-consuming. “Even under our original plan, we would have been on a really tight timeline to get NASA the answers they needed on their timelines.”
Plus, she’s got other projects on her plate. Binsted relocated from Hawaii to Washington, D.C. in September for a yearlong science and technology policy fellowship in Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s office, a move that was in the works since before the incident. She plans to work on the HI-SEAS data remotely.
Members of the failed mission have also moved on. They’ve found new gigs in the United States or returned to their old positions. Michaela Musilova, an astrobiologist from Slovakia, just started a new job as the program manager of Rogers’s new moon simulations.
Musilova spent the summer in Hawaii, working at the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope. She wondered whether she should return to Slovakia, where she is a professor and a chair of the Slovak Organization for Space Activities, a research organization. When she heard from Binsted in early September that there would not be another Mars mission, that move seemed likely. But then she caught up with Rogers, who had met with the crew before their mission in February. Rogers offered her the job.
Musilova made the bumpy drive up to Mauna Loa in September. The last time she had been at the habitat, she was collecting the belongings she had unpacked barely a week earlier. It was difficult to return, she said.
“It brought back memories of mission six, our time together there at the habitat, and our personal and collective plans for what was meant to be an eight-month-long mission,” Musilova said. “It was a sad realization that all those plans were not going to be put in place.”
In some ways, the moon simulation won’t be so different than a Mars one. Crew members will still need to be maintain the habitat and its various systems, like power, water, food, and the composting toilet. They will need to suit up before leaving the dome. And they will explore the rocky, rust-colored landscape of Mauna Loa, shaped by ancient lava.