What's it like to live on Mars?

Could you survive a holiday to the red planet?
11 November 2021


Artist's impression of how humans might live on Mars



'What do you think the most challenging aspect about living on Mars will be for humans?'


Sarafina Nance is a astrophysicist and cosmologist who recently spent two weeks simulating life on Mars. Sally Le Page asked them about their experiences.

Sarafina - I attended a Mars simulation, which was basically living on a volcano in Hawaii and living like I'm an astronaut on Mars with a crew of four other people and doing research and testing our limits.

Sally - How close did they get to simulating Mars? Did they go around spray painting all of the volcanic rocks red?

Sarafina - The landscape on Mauna Loa, which is where we were, is actually pretty similar to the landscape on Mars. That volcanic rock replicates very similar to what Mars is like. And then you're sort of plopped in this isolated, harsh environment where you live in a habitat.

Sally - By habitat, is that like a bubble like we see in The Martian?

Sarafina - Yeah. It's this white dome that is completely sealed off from the elements outside, and every time you leave the habitat you need to be approved by mission control. You need to suit up in your EVA or extra vehicular activity or spacewalk suit. And then you get to go do research, then you return and reassess and then go do everything again the next day. So it really is modelling, as much as possible, what it might be like to be astronauts on another world. We all lived and worked and worked out in the same place, no showers, tiny, tiny, tiny bedrooms, compost toilets.

Sally - What would you say is the most challenging part about that whole experience?

Sarafina - I think one of the most challenging parts was the food. Freeze dried food every day, every meal for two weeks. And then just imagine for a long duration missions, it can be up to a year, it's very challenging. We had quinoa and bell peppers, and I don't think I will ever eat bell peppers ever again after eating those every day.

Sally - Is this the same food that they eat on the International Space Station?

Sarafina - So there's a little bit more variety I think on the ISS. They just ate chili peppers, granted they grew them there, but I think they have a few more opportunities to change food up. But that's one of the main things that they were studying early on at this habitat was how do we give enough variety to astronauts who are gone for a long time and what they eat? So they went through meal replacements, they went through freeze dried food, and it ended up that some sort of full kitchen with freeze dried food was a good opportunity.

Huw - You're probably ready to go and work in Antarctica now because a lot of that has very high similarities with our people who do three or four months in a tent. It's just whatever they can boil on a tiny stove and it's all freeze dried food, and you cycle through maybe five or six types of meal. And that's it, unless you have a very good field assistant who can turn two pans into an oven to make some bread in the field or something which is a miracle.

Sarafina - I know many astronomers who have gone to do field work in Antarctica. And there's a lot of correlation with that. That's actually something I'm really interested in because there are potentially meteorite samples in Antarctica that we can collect to study for supernovae, which is what I focus on.


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