Voice 1: It’s forty-six years since man first set foot on extraterrestrial soil. The moon? Been there! Done that! What next? The United States' Apollo 11 was the first manned mission to land on the moon, on 20 July 1969.
Voice 2: Altogether, there have been six manned US landings on the moon and numerous unmanned landings, but the crew of Apollo 17 in December ’72 were the last men to actually set foot on the moon.
Voice 1: Almost half a century on from the first moon landing, Nasa now has its eyes on Mars. Current technology can send a robotic mission to the Red Planet in eight months, but the boffins at Nasa estimate that a human mission would take between one and three years.
Voice 2: That’s a lot longer than the twelve-day mission of Apollo 17 to the moon and the typical six months astronauts spend on the International Space Station currently orbiting Earth.
Voice 1: And there is one question that no scientist can answer yet. How would a small group of human beings react to being cooped up together in the confines of a space ship for such a long period of time?
Voice 2: With so much time spent in a cramped space without access to fresh air, normal diet or privacy, problems are bound to occur for the astronauts on the first mission to Mars. American scientists are studying how such problems would occur and play out.
Voice 1: In an experiment called Hawaii Space Exploration Analogue and Simulation, the US space agency has begun an important experiment that will help in the eventual planning of a space mission to Mars. They have created Mars on Earth.
Voice 2: On Friday, August 28th, 2015, six people entered a small isolation dome roughly the size of a space ship. And the door was closed on them. This was the start of a year-long isolation experiment to help Nasa scientists prepare for an actual trip to Mars.
Voice 1: The dome, ten metres in diameter and six metres high, is home to a French astro-biologist, a German physicist and four Americans - a doctor, a soil scientist, a pilot and an architect - until August 2016. The group have their own small rooms with a bed and desk. They will eat meals designed for astronauts, and can only go outside if they wear their full spacesuit
Voice 2: The location of the dome has been carefully chosen. It’s on the barren, northern slope of Mauna Loa, in Hawaii. This is a desolate place with no natural animal life and very little vegetation. Mars it is not, but it’s as close a Martian location as Earth can get.
Voice 1: Nasa is spending more than 1.2 million US dollars on studies such as this. That is a lot of money, but it’s cheap compared to the cost of a mission to Mars going wrong because of lack of information that could have been obtained before launch. Everyone wishes the six ‘astronauts’ in the dome on Hawaii the very best of luck!