UVic professor, students to participate in Mars simulation for NASA
UVic professor Olav Krigolson stands in front of the NASA HI-SEAS Mars Habitat in Hawaii where the simulation will take place: (Olav Krigolson)
VICTORIA – A University of Victoria (UVic) professor and two PhD students are set to participate in a NASA-sponsored Mars habitat simulation on Sunday.
The three Victorians will join academics from across Canada to participate in the weeklong simulation, which will test devices that could measure astronauts' brainwaves when in space.
The simulation will take place at NASA's HI-SEAS Mars Habitat in Hawaii and use technology developed by UVic professor Olav Krigolson and his team. The mobile brain scans are made from hardware created by Toronto-based company InterAxon and software developed in Victoria.
Krigolson and his two PhD students, Tom Ferguson and Chad Williams, became involved in the project through a friend and colleague of Krigolson's, Gordon Binstead, the dean of the faculty of health and social development at the University of British Columbia (UBC).
"For the past couple of years I've been doing a lot of work with mobile EEG's, a way to measure brainwaves with a mobile device and headband," Krigolson told CTV News.
"A friend from UBC, our collaborator, his sister actually runs the habitat," said Krigolson. "She's a professor at the University of Hawaii and she said a problem that they're [NASA] going to have is how to measure the brain in space."
Specifically, NASA is looking for a way to measure cognitive fatigue, a brain state that Krigolson's technology will be able to measure. Cognitive fatigue is described as a state in which the brain is exhausted, which can lead to mistakes and poor decision-making.
To test the devices in a space mission-type setting, Krigolson and the other participants will be spending a week cohabitating in the tiny HI-SEAS Mars Habitat. While most simulations that take place in the habitat last a number of months, this seven-day project is focused simply on testing the mobile EEG technology and how it could be applied in the future.
"We're responsible for the software and analytics," said Krigolson. "We never thought we'd be the actual astronauts. The thought was always to train astronauts."
Krigolson adds that while the participants are at the habitat, they will also be responsible for maintaining ongoing experiments at the facility.
"We're expected to maintain all of the existing experiments, which will involve putting on space suits and monitoring them," said Krigolson. Participants were also told that they would be the first group to try out NASA's newest Mars rover.
Krigolson says that while he does not expect to see significant cognitive fatigue in just one week, he predicts that there will be stress among the group as they learn to adjust to a very small environment. He adds that the crew plans to livestream some of their brainwaves so that interested people can view their EEG scans in real time.
The simulation project, called Destination Mars, will begin in Hawaii on Sunday, Dec. 1. You can follow the team's blog online here.