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<b>Cover Girl</b><br><i>Germany's Esther Heesch backstage at the Prabal Gurung show during New York Fashion Week</i><br><br><i>Photo by Eli Schmidt</i>
Vol. 17, no. 1
February / March 2014


The Martian Chronicle 

Story by Sarah Rose
Photos by Elyse Butler and Matt Mallams

There are no palm trees in Hawai‘i at eight thousand feet. On the high-altitude mountaintops of the Big Island, there is very little vegetation at all, no obvious life forms but for the occasional confused and industrious goat. It is a red rock moonscape of lava flows, a desert. It looks like another planet, which is why the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa chose to put a mock manned space station on the high slopes of Mauna Loa.

When NASA put out a call for astronauts last year, 6,300 applicants aimed for the stars. When UH put out a call for astronautlike candidates to live in a tent on the Big Island and pretend it was a Mars colony, six hundred people applied. Of the six selected for a free, four-month trip to Hawai‘i—along with the project’s lead investigator, who’s a UH professor—three were competing for the top NASA job: to become real-life astronauts on a future manned mission to Mars. The Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, or HI-SEAS, was supposed to be a resume builder for the biggest show off Earth.

Just like real astronauts, the crew for the HI-SEAS-1 mission was over-credentialed and obsessive about manned space exploration. Angelo Vermeulen, an artist and biologist from Belgium, served as commander; he’s working on his second PhD and is a Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) fellow. Joining him was Oleg Abramov, a Russian-born planetary geologist at the University of Arizona who seems to have been in astronaut training since birth. Simon Engler, a Canadian roboticist, used combat robots in Afghanistan against the Taliban. Yajaira Sierra- Sastre, a materials scientist from Puerto Rico, seeks to understand how bacteria grow in confined quarters — that is, how long astronauts can go before they have to change their underwear. Kate Green, a journalist for Discovery Magazine and The Economist, documented the experiment, and Sian Proctor, a geology professor from Arizona who starred in a post-apocalyptic reality show about the collapse of civilization, The Colony, performed educational outreach by filming a cooking show to make sure the entire world knew what fake astronauts in a space tent in Hawai‘i were eating. Welcome to the final frontier.