120 days down, 120 to go

The half way point of the mission is today (and we are now the longest Mars analog mission done in North America). It is pretty hard to believe. Due to all the research projects going on here many of my activities are tracked (I’ve also tracked some on my own out of personal interest). A few statistics to cover my 120 days on “Mars”:

Books read: Quiet, Robinson Crusoe, Germs Guns and Steel, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, A Place of My Own and A Walk in the Woods.
TV: All of Breaking Bad (save the final episode), all of Sherlock, all of Flight of the Concords, 3 seasons of Game of Thrones.
Movies: More than I can remember
Workouts: 109
Runs: 22 covering 78 miles in 10 hours
EVAs: 18 for a total of about 12.8 hours spent outside
Showers: 22, running water for 42 minutes
Meals: 26 group meals cooked
Photos taken: 2083
Emails: 891 sent, 6645 received
Words journaled: 40,125 (this includes many emails to family and friends as well as blog posts and journaling required as part of one of the studies)
3D prints: 4.9 lbs of ABS used to print 187 parts
Composting toilets emptied and cleaned: 2


My first post was about things I was looking forward to and things I was expecting to miss (or not). I thought I’d revisit this list with half the mission complete (italics are original items, new items are underlined).

Things I’m looking forward to:
Getting a taste of what living on Mars might be like – This has been interesting and has helped convince me not only that I would still like to go to Mars that I think I could handle it as well.
Getting to know my crew mates – My crew mates are fantastic. I’m so pleased with how the crew selection turned out. I couldn’t have dreamed for better.
Self-directed, independent research – I’ve really enjoyed getting to spend time learning 3D printing, it has also been a useful capability to have in this environment. It also means that I always have something to do and have a creative outlet when I need it.

Things I’ll miss:
Friends and family – Yes. We ended up getting an app to do delayed voicemail. I didn’t think I would use such a thing but it has been great to hear some familiar voices and have some “conversations” a bit less formal than email.
Sunshine – Not quite as bad as I had thought. The dome lets in a decent amount of light.
Green things/seeing plants – Yes
Beer – Yes
Rock climbing – Yes
A run where I actually go somewhere – This is the most I’ve ever run on a treadmill but it just doesn’t do the same thing for me.
Long showers – Even a normal shower (where I don’t turn the water off while I’m there) would be awesome.
Normal food – Salad, fresh fruit, real milk and cheese, a piece of meat bigger than a pea in particular.
Going to shows/mosh pits – Yes, along with being in crowds in general (at least occasionally)
News – I feel a bit disconnected from the world, I suppose not surprisingly. I get news headlines everyday and mission support sends us a handful of articles but I miss getting to browse the news and pick what sounds interesting.
Food that you didn’t have to make from scratch – We take turns cooking for the entire crew so it isn’t like we each have to make every meal, but if I decided I want French toast for breakfast chances are I need to make a loaf of bread the day before, dry out some slices overnight and make it the next day. Going to a restaurant or just buying a loaf of bread at the store is going to be a nice change.

Things I won’t miss:
Commuting – True, don’t really miss driving in general either.
Shopping – Generally true, but I think the first few trips to the grocery store are going to be pretty magical. I’ve already been thinking about what I’ll buy.
Celebrity gossip – Can’t seem to escape this, partially my fault since I’m watching the Daily Show regularly.
My computer asking to update Java/flash – This just got traded for a bunch of other programs saying that they can’t update because they can’t reach their server. Not really any better off.
Political ads – Avoided these so far.
Bills – Managed to get the few I have all set to autopay so I never have to think about them.

They say that the 3rd quarter is supposed to be the hardest. The excitement is mostly gone and there is still a long ways to go. I can’t say that I’m feeling that yet and don’t really expect to. There have been only fleeting moments where I wasn’t excited and happy to be here. I’m more worried about having to leave in 120 days than I am making in through until then.


  1. Happy 120 Day Zak! I loved this post and hearing about what you miss and don’t from a longer perspective. We miss you, just so you know. Happy Valentines Day on Mars. Willi & Mike too.


  2. Sweet I made a redesign and it goes like this we add 5 more domes all in a crical and add a 200 foot garden space to each dome and 50 feet of each garden is a water pond. From Jenner Pomo Research Earth Space. Each dome is a department. D-command,D-Med,D-Enganeering,D-Space Gardener,D-Space Village cooks, all departments has a crew of 6, add space hull and a SEG drive and many other things. Have fun as if I get a place to build we add 6 bv206.


  3. Hi Zak –
    Thanks for these notes. Great insights on live on the analog. Q: How do you all work out leadership roles? With all the talent inside, what management works well? Not so well?
    All the best – MJ


    1. We have a commander than was chosen by the selection committee with input from the rest of us. Other than that pretty much all duties rotate. It is rather nice to not be stuck with the same role all the time. When making decisions it is pretty much always a discussion rather than an executive decision by the commander. Since the group is so small this has worked well for us thus far.


  4. […] The half way point of the mission is today (and we are now the longest Mars analog mission done in North America). It is pretty hard to believe. Due to all the research projects going on here many of my activities are tracked….(more) […]


  5. What a fascinating study and post. If you had free reign is there anything you would change i.e. addition/removal of certain living spaces; division of labour; access to external communications?

    What do you think the psychological differences between your 240 day stint and a situation where you are there permanently would be? Would individual and group cohesion collapse if the stay was indefinite? Although a command structure is in place, what systems are in force to maintain the rule of law – this may not be a problem at present group size but may become highly problematic as group size increases.

    Is there anything that NASA could learn from hydrographic surveying communities around the world? Some of their work rotations require extended periods on a vessel floating in the middle of the ocean (albeit with regular supply drops and variable interaction with external groups).

    Kind Regards,


    1. We would all very much like a greenhouse, both so that we could increase our fresh food production and to have a place to be around greenery and get some sun. I feel that the habitat is generally quite well designed, that the crew has a good variety of backgrounds (a geologist might be a nice addition) and that we have come up with an equitable division of labor. While more external communication would be welcome it would make for a less realistic simulation and so wouldn’t be a good change in my opinion.

      I think there would be a pretty different mindset for the first Martian colonists. It might be better to look at people immigrating to other countries rather than a study like this (or in addition to a study like this). I think a crew of this size would have difficulty with an indefinite stay, both in terms of group cohesion and having the ability to upkeep the equipment and perform research. I agree that maintaining order could become difficult as group size increases (particularly on a one way mission) but that is well beyond my area of expertise.

      I’m sure that NASA is looking at other isolated communities (e.g. Antarctica, oil rigs, etc) and that there are things to be learned from them as well. There are a few things that makes HI-SEAS unique.
      Background – all the crew members have been selected to be as astronaut like as possible in our backgrounds. As such we almost all have advanced degrees in science or engineering.
      Crew size – six people is quite small compared to many other isolated groups.
      Being a Mars mission simulation – our tasks are designed to be similar to that of a Mars crew. Our habitat follows design principals for a Martian habitat. We are specifically blocked from external interactions and being outdoors.


  6. […] first post was about things I was looking forward to and things I was expecting to miss (or not). I revisited the list with half the mission complete, now with just a few days remaining I’ll share my thoughts […]


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