The Hi Seas habitat successfully simulates Mars like conditions and maintains all of the required elements of life for 6 crew members. These people are isolated together for 6-12 months and monitored by NASA. During this time as well as physical experiments, NASA is researching the Psychological strain and challenges of isolating 6 people from society on a Mars mission. This is allowing NASA to prepare for any challenges they will face during the Mars missions.
The Habitat itself is very practical and is successfully self-sufficient apart from a few shipments of supplies received every few months. There is very little communication with the outside world and a 22 minute communication delay between Hi Seas and NASA control is put in place to simulate communication challenges on Mars.
This 22 minute delay means that the crew is isolated from general society with a lack of internet and therefore pop-culture. Maintaining sanity, for long periods of time with so little interaction with the outside world is challenging and mentally straining. Culminating in the crews re-assimilation to society - they’ve effectively been cut off from the world for the duration of their mission, potentially major world and personal changes may have occurred. Forcing all these changes on the crew upon their return could potentially cause issues in both acceptance of these changes, and reintegration to society. The longer the mission, the more severe these issues become.
Habfeed, is software written to collect relevant and up to date pop-culture and news articles the crew will find interesting and entertaining. The program will then send all of the data daily (potentially over 2-3 communication cycles). Once the data is received by the Hi Seas antenna it is stored in a server, which is accessed through WIFI and presented as a scrolling news feed on tables and T.Vs around the Hub, similar to a facebook, instagram or reddit style feed. The data can include, news articles, videos as posted to a youtube style source, entertaining pictures, and magazine style articles relating to their interests.
The feed has two options. The first is a general feed, which the entire crew can access and is presented on the screens around the habitat. The feed constantly scrolls downwards on the screen, so the crew don’t have to interact with it. When there is a story of interest they can use a remote to select the story, picture, or video they want to see more in depth. They have the option to view it on a communal screen, or find the link on their own personal device, through searching key words or a unique code applied to each link. The crew usually have around 2-3 hours of free time within which they can use this app.
The other feed is a personalised one. This feed can only be accessed on their personal WIFI devices such as tablets or phones. The user has the option select topics which interest them, through the use of ‘tags’. These topic preferences will be sent back to NASA, where the software will start selecting relevant data based on the tags from a range of sources. This data is once again sent to Hi-seas and accessed by the user at any given time, again through searching key words to the unique code.
The longer the system is implemented from, the larger the cache of data will become, effectively forming an internal intranet comprising only of the users interests. Should the users want more range of topics, all they have to do is adjust or update their ‘tags’. The size of the cache is limited only by the amount of storage space that can be provided. Once the storage is full, the system will automatically start deleting data starting from the oldest stored. Crew will also have the option to save links, allowing them to view, or review. Saving a link ensures it is not deleted.
By providing caches of pictures, articles, videos and general information on topics the users are generally interested in, it allows the crew to unwind during their free time, and gives more topics of conversation during their time together. This constant stream of real world, semi real time data will ensure the crew stays up to date with both major world events, but also events that impact their own personal interests and hobbies.
Allowing the crew to remain connected to society eases the mental stresses placed upon them. Whilst providing access to the outside world, meaning upon re-assimilation, they are almost able to rejoin society as if they never left.
In terms of physical changes to the hub, a smart T.V would be connected to a mount with 3 ranges of motion, and placed on the corner next to the stairs. This will allow optimum viewing from most areas on the ground floor of the hub, which is present in past pictures of the Habitat. If not already provided, a small server and WIFI network will have to be installed and the supply of off the shelf phones or tablets to connect to the WIFI is a requirements, if not already implemented.
The benefits of implementing the habfeed system centre around the improved mental health of the crew. This stems from providing an escape from the reality of living in a confined space.
In the HAB, the crew is presented with limited entertainment, and no opportunity to interact with the outside world. To the crew, it would almost be as if there is no reality other than the one they are living. The habfeed will provide entertainment, sources of conversation, sources of humour, and sources of distractions.
Whilst the ultimate use of habfeed will be determined by the crew once the system is implemented. It is envisaged that it would be used for short periods daily as a way of maintaining a connection to current affairs. Crew may have the general feed scrolling during meal time, similar to how families in their homes watch the news or TV.
Habfeed may also be utilised as a distraction whilst exercising. In low gravity environments, crew members will need to spend a large amount of time on the exercise equipment in order to maintain their muscular, skeletal and central nervous systems. Being able to lose oneself in current affairs, entertaining videos or articles, will improve general mental health, and crew members approach to an activity which could very easily become disliked.
Finally, upon re-entry into society crew members will be up to date with events that directly influence their life. They won’t have to take time to readjust to, or learn anything new that applies to their hobbies and interests. Habfeed will also ensure that information is received as a continual stream during the crew’s mission. Although the current system in place updates the crew to any major changes to their personal life and/or the current major events happening in society, there may be a lot of minor events the individuals care strongly about, which they wouldn't hear about. This means currently there is a possibility of many negative events affecting an individuals personal life, which they will only learn about after the mission. The dangers of sudden dumps of bade news is that if enough bad news is received the individuals may not be able to process it all, leading to a mental decline. Habfeed allows access to all information, both good and bad, which will reduce the possibility of a large 'bad news dump'.
The HabFeed team believe that our solution will provide great positive value for the HI-SEAS Project. In fact, not only can the HabFeed concepts be implemented in the HI-SEAS project, they can also be implemented in real future long duration NASA missions, such as to Mars or the Moon. We believe that this technology can also be used on earth, in remote or rural communities with limited or slow access to the internet.
Attached is a 3D model of the system, web based code for the Habfeed program and a Mock-up for the App.
Prototype source code available here: https://github.com/jayesh100/spaceapps2017
SpaceApps is a NASA incubator innovation program.