Virtual astronaut to share experience of life on Mars

Scientist to recount virtual space experience

OLIVIA WANNAN
Last updated 05:00 15/05/2014
Haritina Mogosanu
CAMERON BURNELL/Fairfax NZ

RED PLANET: Haritina Mogosanu knows exactly what awaits the first astronauts on Mars: stress and squabbles. ‘‘People will have to be very seriously psychologically tested.’’

Haritina Mogosanu
KIWISPACE
HAVE SUIT, CAN TRAVEL: Mogosanu in the replica spacesuit she had to wear every time she left the Mars Desert Research Station Hub.

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Being stuck in a two-storey, 8-metre metal cylinder with five strangers for two weeks would be terrifying for many people - but for Haritina Mogosanu it was a dream come true.

In fact, the Romanian-born Wellingtonian couldn't wait to get back to the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, returning a year later. She will speak on her experiences tonight at the Carter Observatory.

The hub was built in the US by the international Mars Society to simulate what a long-term astronaut crew sent to the Red Planet might undergo.

Volunteers at the station provide invaluable feedback to those developing technologies like spacesuits and dehydrated food.

Every day, the crew wakes, checks the instruments and eats a rehydrated breakfast before the lucky ones spend half an hour putting on spacesuits designed for Mars so they can go outside to maintain the rovers, collect samples or tend to the sealed greenhouse.

Emails from families had an enforced delay time to recreate the isolation of a distance of at least 54 million kilometres, Mogosanu said. "It is a pretend thing, but it is a real thing. You have to be serious if you want to do real science."

Some people simply snap and leave the Utah desert behind - an option that certainly won't be available to anyone sent to the fourth planet with a 10-month journey between them and Earth.

"People will have to be very seriously psychologically tested. There is no such thing as: I don't feel like doing that. You can't afford it."

Bickering between crew members was common. "It challenged who I was. It challenged every single living cell."

Experiencing what life on another planet might be like was the culmination of a life-long fascination with astronomy, Mogosanu said.

Even her decision to make New Zealand her home had a connection to the stars. "New Zealand has the best sky in the world. Here is the only place where you can see the centre of our galaxy . . . like an arch, like a rainbow from one side of the sky to another."

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- The Dominion Post

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