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Research Profile: Long duration, deep space missions

In 2013 Professor Kim Binsted discusses her research on analog environments for manned Mars missions, and her life long desire to be an astronaut.

Hi Kim.  With the recent landing of Curiosity on Mars, we are poised to learn more than ever before about the Red Planet.  How does your research relate?

Well, there are a large number of questions NASA needs to answer before it can send humans on long-duration deep-space missions, such as a trip to Mars. Some of these issues can be investigated in analog environments: situations on Earth that are similar to space missions in some useful way. At HI-SEAS (Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation), we are able to put a crew of six people in a space analog habitat for long durations (4-12+ months), to address questions like: What’s the best way to select a crew so that they will work well together in stressful situations over the long term? How can we provide ongoing medical care, and react effectively to medical emergencies? What sets of skills will the crew need to have, and how will they maintain those skills over long missions? What kind of diet will keep them healthy and happy? And so on.

Are you spending a lot of time on the Big Island for this project, or can you live on Oahu and participate remotely?

Well, in the couple of months leading up to our first simulated mission, which starts in March, I’ll be spending most of my time on the Big Island. As the program evolves, however, I should be able to return to working and living on Oahu.

If ICS students wanted to get involved with this research project, what skills would you like them to learn, and how could they contribute?

kim_marssimulation_smallThere are so many ways ICS students can contribute! For example, we’d like to have a really interactive web site, so that everyone can learn about and interact with our crew during the mission. We’d also like to have resource-monitoring software, so that crews know exactly how much water and power a given activity is using. This is really important for a space mission, as resources are very limited, and the crew would be in a very bad situation if a critical resource were to run low. We will also be testing some communications software for NASA. Communications with Mars are very high latency and have many dropouts, which offers a lot of challenges. Students could also work on technologies to support remote medicine. There are lots of possibilities.

I’d also like to point out that undergraduate students can apply for Space Grant Fellowships, which are a wonderful way to get into research and make some money at the same time. The deadline for spring semester is December 1, so if you’re interested, please drop me an email ASAP!  Here’s a link for more information:

I know that you have a personal interest in the astronaut program. How did you first get interested in it, and what are the kinds of things you’ve done to become a candidate?

I have always wanted to be an astronaut. I love using technology to go places people wouldn’t otherwise be able to go, and spaceflight is the ultimate expression of that.  I don’t think there’s anything I’ve done just for my astro CV, but I might have pushed a little harder than I would have otherwise. For example, I have my private pilot license and an instrument rating, and am working on my commercial rating – but I might have stopped at the first if it weren’t for the astronaut program. But then again, maybe not. 🙂

Anything else you’d like us to know?  Can you supply some links to research publications about this project?

We’re looking for undergraduate and graduate students to help us on this and future projects, so if you’re interested, please do drop me an email!

Many of my publications are here, although this interview reminds me that I need to update the page: