A SCIENTIST from Warwick has managed to swerve pandemic restrictions by taking a different kind of holiday this year – to Mars.
Jas Purewal built an ‘analog Mars habitat’ – a dome in which she simulated a mission to the neighbouring planet – from broomstick handles and waterproof materials in her back garden.
Analog missions have been used since the Apollo moon landing days – testing human factors such as psychology, teamworking and equipment such as space suits and rovers. But this the first time, she says, it has been done in the UK.
She told the Observer: “I was supposed to be participating in a couple of analog missions this year but covid prevented that, so I thought why not bring the mission to me. I’m also hoping it will get people excited about space and they will learn about analogs.”
The former astrophysics student decided to put herself to the test for a week, eating, sleeping and working from her dome – only leaving in her space suit and helmet to use her downstairs bathroom and to wash her face in the morning.
To stay true to a realistic Mars mission, Jas also ate freeze-dried meals such as pasta and chicken as well as snacks – not least dried mealworm and locusts – as well as replicating a 20 minute delay when communicating with ‘Earth’.
The research scientist measured her emotional responses to her unusual conditions and recorded them in a daily log.
She said: “It has been really interesting. I have found the atmosphere in the dome very nice, especially in the evenings. But given that it’s in my back garden, I felt surprisingly isolated in it, even though I was obviously still on Earth. I’ve really missed nature and being able to look out of a window.
“The combination of being alone and in a new environment as I lacked the usual situational references. Even the slightest interaction with other people via emails or messages was hugely beneficial, even with the 20 minute delay. I found this human contact energised me and lifted my mood enormously. As an extrovert I am energised by human interaction normally, but this was a much bigger high. It was actually very easy to believe that I was miles away from anyone.”
The researcher also kept herself busy with space-related activities including building and coding a mini mars rover – her ‘dome pet’ she named Molecule – as well as exercise and relaxation in the evenings.
She added: “Overall the experience has been very positive. It’s important to stay busy on the mission and stick to a schedule, which includes meal times, time for exercise and leisure time.
“For the entire duration I was completely living in the present. There is nothing like a different environment and being a bit uncomfortable to bring the mind into the present. Mindfulness is not something I practice consciously. I fully believe that bit of discomfort every now and then is good for you.”
Jas hopes in time she can extend the experience to others, and inspire them with her passion for space which grew from a visit to the Kennedy Space Centre as a child. She also hopes to repeat her experiment in other parts of the world in the near future.
Visit www.spacexplorer.co.uk/blog to read about Jas’ Mars adventure.