So what are we doing here anyway?

The main reason we are all here is to provide data about crew selection and crew cohesion for long duration isolated mission (like a mission to Mars). In pursuit of this goal we have about 40 tasks per week that we are doing. Most of these are surveys that take just a few minutes, though there are longer tasks as well that I’ll describe further below.

There are six major research studies we are participating in:

Food study – Cornell

HI-SEAS began as a food study looking at menu fatigue and comparing prepared food with food made from shelf stable ingredients. That was the study I originally applied for a couple years ago, in retrospect I’m happy I didn’t get it. I think this one is more interesting and they’ve managed to work out a fair number of the kinks. The mission one crew had to record and photograph everything they ate. We just have a few weeks of that plus tracking our overall food consumption (e.g when we finish a bag of rice that gets recorded) and doing a daily survey asking about our health and mood.

TPT (Team Performance Task) – John Hopkins

This is a computer based game, played with three people on three separate computers. It is designed to evaluate the balance between selfish behavior and altruistic behavior. The basic idea is that you need to drag a box from the top of the screen to the bottom, but there are a number of barriers in the way. Each person controls three and can see them at all times, the other players’ barriers are invisible unless they reveal them to everyone else. Revealing your barriers takes time so it reduces the number of points you can score but increases the points the team can score and encourages others to reveal their barriers as well (which helps you score more points). The individual and team scores are recorded. This task is done once a week on average. There is also a survey and saliva sample (to measure cortisol) before the task and more saliva after. Finally a weekly survey to go with it.

Cognition Project – University of Pennsylvania

This is an iPad app that aims to quantify your mental performance using a variety of short games. It was designed to replace NASA’s current cognitive test used by astronauts. A few examples are: a series of fractal images that flash on the screen and you need to tap when it matches the images from two changes ago, a reaction time test, a few pattern games and a test to say what emotion a particular face is expressing. Done once every two weeks.

Curiosity and Interaction – Michigan State

Michigan state is interested in our interactions with other crew members over the course of the mission. We wear a sociometer badge all the time (except when sleeping, showering or exercising). It records our proximity to other crew members as well as some environmental data. Also do 3 surveys a day (and a 4th on Wednesdays). Once a week we do the curiosity task which involves choosing a site on Mars to explore based on some simple data. Each person has some unique information and the idea is to trade info, find the best place to go to optimize your goal and compromise to agree on one place to go. We also have to wear a second badge and a heart rate monitor for this.

SIFT – Smart Information Flow Technologies

They are testing computer algorithms for automatically detecting emotion and social dynamics between the crew and friends and family. This involves journal writing a few days a week and surveys 4 days a week. A couple people outside the crew are also doing surveys throughout the mission about interactions with us.

Virtual Space Station – Dartmouth

This a set of videos and interactive tasks to provide some training on how to deal with conflict, stress and depression. It was specifically designed for astronauts (and analog astronauts) so all the examples are space related. It also can utilize some biofeedback sensors to help with relaxation.

Everyone also brought their own research as well, some pretty individual and others that involve the whole crew. I’ll be doing another post covering them at some point.


  1. mike bigger · · Reply

    Thanks for the overview of tasks. I didn’t realize the extent of the studies going on.
    Sounds like there is little time for boredom, and good opportunity for learning
    something about yourself




    1. Yeah they are trying to keep us busy and extract as much data from us as they can. Life certainly isn’t boring though the repetitive surveys can be a little tedious.


  2. Mike Horner · · Reply

    The social dynamics research is interesting Zak. It sounds like your team is exceptionally cohesive. Do you think that’s a wierd data point in the context of the social dynamics of earlier teams, or do you think the team selection process is getting better?


    1. It is a bit hard to say if we are an outlier or not, since we don’t know all that much about the previous crews. The selection certainly is getting better though. The first crew had a few days (or maybe a week) of cooking training together before the final selection. I don’t believe the second crew ever meet in person before the final selection was made. We got our week long NOLS trip which I think was a pretty good test. Last I heard the plan was to have the next crew do a NOLS trip as well as they selection committee was pleased with that method.


  3. […] are ridiculously over gizmoed. The psychological studies that are the main research goals for the mission require us to fill out numerous surveys every day (at least 4). Many of these are doable on any […]


  4. This is a cool overview! What are your overall impressions of the research programs? What research are you all doing as individuals?


    1. It’s hard from the subject side of the research. It’s not always clear what the final goal is or how they plan to use all the data they are gathering (which is a massive amount). I’m very much looking forward to reading papers based on this as they come out.

      I’m been meaning to do a post about our individual research projects but haven’t gotten around to it yet, hopefully soon.


      1. Allison Anderson · ·

        Hi Zac,

        My name is Allie and I recently made a comment on a blog post you made at the beginning of HI-Seas about research. Thank you so much for responding to my comment! I wanted to send you a message because I am actually a part of the Virtual Space Station research team. I am brand new to the project and really don’t know anything about HI-Seas, so I was reading everything to try to get caught up to speed. I thought your blog was great. Clearly I’m interested in all the research happening, especially since I hadn’t read much about the individual research the other members are doing. I did want to be completely transparent, though, so there was no confusion when I do come to meet you all in June. Thanks again, and keep up the super interesting work!




  5. […] about what I’m doing living on Mars for eight […]


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