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Six crew members on a mock Mars mission are preparing to come back to the real world at the end of the week.
The second Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation mission, known as Hi-SEAS 2, wraps up on Friday, ending four months of simulated Mars exploration on Hawaii's Mauna Loa volcano.
Commander Casey Stedman and his five crewmates entered their "Mars habitat" — a 36-foot-wide (11-meter-wide), solar-powered structure — on March 28, tasked with helping bring a bona fide manned Red Planet mission a bit closer to reality. [The 9 Coolest Mock Space Missions]
HI-SEAS "is a program designed to operate a simulated environment to test what will be necessary for future astronauts to live on the surface of Mars for an extended period of time," Stedman, an officer in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, wrote in a blog post.
The crew members have ventured outside their habitat on Mauna Loa's slopes only to conduct "Marswalks" in mock spacesuits. In addition to Stedman, the team includes physics Ph.D. student Ross Lockwood, spaceflight research assisant Tiffany Swarmer, space-engineering Ph.D. candidate Lucie Poulet, NASA scientist Anne Caraccio and neuropsychologist Ronald Williams.
The crew members have been conducting a number of different research projects. They're investigating how to improve spacewalk design and execution, for example, and how well plants grow under different wavelengths of light. Williams is keeping a close eye on everyone's psychological health.
HI-SEAS 2 is run by the University of Hawaii at Manoa and funded by NASA's Human Research Program. The 118-day HI-SEAS 1 mission, which focused on how best to feed astronauts during a mission to the Red Planet, wrapped up last August.
Mars is the main long-term goal of NASA's human spaceflight program. The agency aims to get astronauts to the vicinity of the Red Planet by the mid-2030s.