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Ham Radio Will Play a Role in “HI-SEAS” Simulated Mars Mission

03/04/2014

When Ron Williams, N9UIK, and his team of “astronauts” head to “Mars” this spring, they’ll be taking Amateur Radio along, just as NASA space travelers have done. Williams is part of Mission 2 (of four) in the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation — HI-SEAS, in which participants will simulate living and working within a Martian outpost — actually a solar-powered dome at a remote site some 8000 feet up on the slopes of Mauna Loa. Conducted by the University of Hawaii and Cornell University, the project has partial funding from NASA.

“I am confident that when we eventually go to Mars, there will be some type of involvement with the Amateur Radio community,” Williams said, noting Amateur Radio’s long-standing role in space missions, including the International Space Station. “We would like to simulate this on this mission.” Part of that will mean integrating a 20 minute signal delay into all communications, whether via Amateur Radio or the Internet.

“This will simulate the distance, when greatest, between Earth and Mars,” explained Williams, a clinical neuropsychologist from Indiana. At 60, he’s the oldest member of the team; the youngest is 26. Williams, is one of two hams on this crew increment. The other is Ross Lockwood, VA6RLW, of Alberta.

“Our proposed outreach simulation to the Amateur Radio community will also involve this signal delay,” Williams continued. “To the best of our knowledge, this will be unique to any Amateur Radio special event ever conducted.” HI-SEAS also was able to obtain the special event call sign K6B for the project for nearly the entire length of the mission, instead of the typical 15 days.

“Learning how to deal with signal delay is something that NASA is very interested in as a part of our project,” Williams told ARRL. “This is a chance to experiment with this unique little barrier to communication. When we humans finally get our ‘stuff’ together again and resume space exploration, we will need to deal with this.”

Williams said that every Saturday morning at 1900 UTC (0900 Hawaii Time), K6B will call out on an EchoLink repeater and on 10 meters, to offer information regarding the project and to invite calls. “We will stop transmitting and will turn off our receiver,” he said. “During the following 20 minute ‘signal delay,’ an outside coordinator will line up individual hams wishing to make contact with us. At the end of 20 minutes we will turn our radio back on and begin receiving transmissions. These will be called in order by the outside coordinator.”

After logging the call signs, the “Martian” team will wait another 20 minutes before transmitting acknowledgements. A special QSL card will be available. Williams said operational details will be announced as they become available.

Team members were required to have “astronaut-like characteristics,” including the ability to pass a Class 2 flight physical examination and undergraduate training as a scientist or engineer. While in the “Martian” habitat, in Hawaii, team members will not be allowed outside without wearing space suits.

Williams says he’s been straight out “trying to take care of a million things I need to get done before blast-off,” on March 28. During these missions the “astronauts,” will simulate living and working just as they would on the surface of Mars. The overall project incorporates several scientific studies, ranging from geology, topography, and microbiology to robotics, waste conversion to energy sources, water recycling, and — Williams’s specialty — psychological adjustment to long-term confinement, he said.

During the mission, the crew will communication with family and friends via e-mail. Williams is planning to blog throughout the mission and chat via Skype — with the 20 minute delay inserted — with colleagues at Fort Wayne Neurological Center in Indiana. The Center has granted him a leave of absence for his Martian adventure. 



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