Recently, my husband and I have been apartment shopping. It’s just the two of us, but we both work from home, and we know from experience how important physical space can be to maintaining the peace in our marriage. Specifically, we know how quickly things can go south if we don’t have enough space. Space to breathe, space to work, space to be alone, space to not feel like we’re on top of each other all day every day. There’s nothing like being trapped in a tiny box with another human being to bring out the worst in you, no matter how much you might like the person in question.
Apparently, NASA is aware of this phenomenon as well. And they’re working on the problem. Along with Cornell University and the University of Hawaii at Manoa, NASA has been running a series of isolation simulations called HI-SEAS, Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation. Yeah, that acronym isn’t forced at all.
On August 29th, NASA sent six volunteers into the longest of these isolation experiment ever conducted. These six lab rats…I mean, people…will spend the next year living together under a dome that is only 36 feet in diameter, isolated on a barren volcano in Hawaii. If they wish to leave their tiny living space, they must wear a space suit. I’m not kidding.
The experiment is designed to simulate what living conditions might be like on Mars for any future human exploration of the planet. The focus of the experiment is on the psychological effects of living in such close quarters for an extended period without a means of escape.
Okay, let’s do some quick math. If the diameter of the dome is 36ft, then that’s about 1,027 square feet.
The other day my husband and I looked at an apartment that was listed on craigslist as 925 square feet. I think that was a generous estimation, but still. When we left, my husband said something like “well, I don’t know, it was sort of nice if a little dark…” before I cut him off. “I will wind up killing you,” I told him.
And I would. It would just be a matter of time. From the moment we moved in, somewhere there would be a murder clock, counting down. And there are only two of us.
Six people, living in a space that’s just over 1,000 square feet, for a year, without the option of popping out to the bar or whatever when they just need to get out of there for a while. I’m telling you, this will end in murder. Human nature is just not something that can be fixed.
Except…it’s NASA. They can come up with a solution for anything. Remember a few weeks ago when I talked about gardening in microgravity? NASA figured that one out. Maybe they really can come up with a way for human beings to be able to stand living so close to one another for so long. Maybe they can find the perfect arrangement of physical space, the ultimate mediation techniques, psychological training that can make us the best roommates ever, something like that.
And if they can…just think of the applications…cheap apartments crammed full to bursting with people….
Okay, wait, this doesn’t sound like a good thing after all. I take it back.
But still, it’s a big deal for space travel. Current estimates for the flight time from Earth to Mars range from one to four years. Then you probably want to stay there for a while before coming back. So the crew of any manned Mars mission will need to be able to get along with each other really, really well.
And the first step towards that, apparently, is the weirdest reality TV show scenario ever. It’s all the unpleasantness of space travel without the fun of actually going anywhere. But hey, at least you know at the end of the year you will definitely have made it home.
Unless one of your crewmates murders you because you ate the last of the powdered cheese.