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Scientists Emerge From Dome After 8-Month Stay to Test Life on Mars

by The Associated Press /  / Updated 

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Six scientists who were living under a dome on the slopes of a dormant Hawaii volcano for eight months to simulate life on Mars have emerged from isolation.

The crew stepped outside the dome that's 8,000 feet up the slopes of Mauna Loa to feel fresh air on their skin Saturday. It was the first time they left without donning a spacesuit.

The scientists are part of a human performance study funded by NASA that tracked how they worked together as a team. They have been monitored by surveillance cameras, body-movement trackers and electronic surveys.

Crew member Jocelyn Dunn said it was awesome to feel the sensation of wind on her skin.

"When we first walked out the door, it was scary not to have a suit on," said Dunn, 27, a doctoral candidate at Purdue University. "We've been pretending for so long."

The dome's volcanic location, silence and its simulated airlock seal provided an atmosphere similar to space. Looking out the dome's porthole windows, all the scientists could see were lava fields and mountains, said University of Hawaii professor Kim Binsted, principal investigator for the study.

Six scientists exit a dome that they lived in as part of an isolated existence to simulate life on a mission to Mars on the Big Island of Hawaii, Saturday, June 13, 2015.
Six scientists exit a dome that they lived in as part of an isolated existence to simulate life on a mission to Mars on the Big Island of Hawaii, Saturday, June 13, 2015.Ryan Ogliore/University of Hawaii at Manoa / AP

Tracking the crew members' emotions and performance in the isolated environment could help ground crews during future missions to determine if a crew member is becoming depressed or if the team is having communication problems.

Related: Simulated Mars Missions Play Role in Real-Life Dinosaur Discoveries

Spending eight months in a confined space with six people had its challenges, but crew members relieved stress doing team workouts and yoga. They were able to use a solar-powered treadmill and stationary bike, but only in the afternoons on sunny days.

"When you're having a good day, it's fine. It's fun. You have friends around to share in the enjoyment of a good day," Dunn said. "But if you have a bad day, it's really tough to be in a confined environment. You can't get out and go for a walk ... it's constantly witnessed by everyone."

The first thing crew members did when they emerged from the dome was to chow down on foods they've been craving — juicy watermelon, deviled eggs, peaches and croissants, a step up from the freeze-dried chili they had been eating.

Related: Glass Detected on Mars Could Hold Evidence of Life

Next on Dunn's list: going for a swim. Showers in the isolated environment were limited to six minutes per week, she said.

"To be able to just submerge myself in water for as long as I want, to feel the sun, will be amazing," Dunn said. "I feel like a ghost."

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