This past Saturday (Jan. 4) in Hawaii, on the remote slopes of Mauna Loa, the largest volcano in the world, six scientists embarked on a historic “mission to Mars.”
Analog astronaut missions place scientists and explorers in remote locations on Earth that physically resemble cosmic destinations like the moon and Mars. There, the researchers explore and conduct research as if they were in space. This generates important scientific data and informs space agencies about what it would be like to step foot on these distant surfaces.
One of these teams of analog astronauts left last weekend at Sensoria I, the inaugural tour of the Sensoria project. This series of missions will take place at HI-SEAS (Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation), one habitat Mars analogue for human researchers. Sensoria will last from 4 to 18 January, when the crew will emerge from habitat ‘Martian’. The Sensoria program is unique for several reasons, but one of them is that this is the first HI-SEAS team to be made up of women only.
“This is the first all-female crew to be in the HI-SEAS habitat, ” Erin Bonilla, vice commander and medical officer of this mission, told Space.com. She added that intentionally supporting women is an important part of the vision of the Sensoria missions, which aim to “put women at the forefront of space exploration, which historically has not been the case.”
“It’s kind of become this sisterhood that supports one another in the space sector professionally as well as personally,” J.J. Hastings, a bioengineer and the commander of this inaugural Sensoria mission, told Space.com
This is only the first Sensoria mission and, while the crews will not all consist solely of women, women will always be the majority and the crews will be put together with a concerted effort for diversity and inclusion.
This is just Sensoria’s first mission, and while teams are not all made up of women alone, women will always be the majority and teams will come together with a joint effort of diversity and inclusion.
Going forward, “All of our missions will be female-led and female-majority. We, of course, will welcome with open arms our male colleagues, but we believe that women need to be placed at the center of our shared vision for space exploration, that women need to be given a platform for professional development, opportunities for research and training,” Hastings said.
A unique “Mars mission”
The all-female crew is not the only thing that separates Sensoria from the pack. This is the first analog astronaut mission to be backed by venture capital, Hastings said.
Hastings also serves as the CEO of Analogs LLC, a company that is backing the mission and the entire Sensoria space program. The program and collaboration provide “access to the analog environment for commercial partners, for government partners as well as our academic collaborators,” Hastings said.
On this mission, for instance, crewmember Adriana Blachowicz, a science officer for this mission who works as a researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will test an instrument that will be sent to the International Space Station.
The Sensoria missions additionally aim, as other analog missions have done, to push forward important research with a focus on sustainable solutions.