|Robotics expert and masters student Simon Engler mugs for a photo in the ICT building at the University of Calgary in Calgary, Alta. on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012. Engler is one of six crew members chosen by NASA to be part of a four-month simulated Mars mission in Hawaii starting in March 2013. Lyle Aspinall/Calgary Sun/QMI Agency
It’s a trip to Hawaii that, for Calgarian Simon Engler, will feel like visiting another planet.
The robotics expert has been chosen from over 700 other applicants by NASA to be part of a six-person mission on a desolate, remote stretch of Hawaii’s Big Island that closely resembles Mars.
But the four-month endurance test that begins next March will bear little resemblence to a tropical vacation, said Engler.
“Only a small amount of people who applied realized what they’re getting themselves into,” said Engler, 35.
“It’s very isolated, at close quarters and there’ll be bad food...a two-minute shower once a week.
“It’s going to be awesome.”
The six mission members who’ll occupy a 900-sq.-ft. dome-like structure will be closely monitored by NASA.
Communications with the outside world, he said, will be subject to a 20-minute time delay consistent with transmissions from Mars.
Each of the crew will bring their own research project and Engler’s will be a multi-tasking robot not much different from the wheeled probes that have scoured the red planet.
“We’ll look at human-robot interaction, what kind of problems they’ll have on Mars,” he said. “I strongly believe we’ll have robotic assistance when on Mars.”
Three years ago, Engler brought his robotic techniques to Afghanistan where he helped Canadian troops sniff out Taliban roadside bombs during a 10-month mission.
It’s an experience that might well have clinched the Mars simulation gig, he said.
“I think that left little doubt I’d be able to handle the living conditions,” he said.
A big part of that lifestyle to go under the microscope, said Engler, will be astronaut diet that’ll force the crew to explore food diversity.
“Astronauts get food fatigue if they get sick of what they’re eating and they lose the ability to do things,” he said.
Any NASA manned mission to Mars won’t likely be launched until 2030, said Engler, adding he’d volunteer for the real thing in a heartbeat if one departed sooner.
“Absolutely, no problem,” he said, noting the voyage would take six months to a year.
“The science of going to Mars is very important.”
Before heading to Hawaii, Engler and his comrades will undergo a two-week preliminary test in Utah in January.