Locked in a two-story, 636 square-foot capsule for 45 days, MSU graduate student Madelyne Willis found out what a trip to Mars might be like. Willis, a Montana State University doctoral candidate, was of a NASA experiment at the Johnson Space Center in Texas. Marshall Swearingen of MSU News Service wrote about her experience.

Willis and three others felt the shaking and noise of liftoff, and then the views in the windows were stars and what someone would see if they traveled from Earth to Phobos, a moon of Mars. They simulated the space trip, including the communication delay between the capsule and Earth as they sped farther and farther away. At Mars, it would take ten minutes for a response to any message they sent to Earth, which was stressful at times.

In a news release, Willis said, "An alarm would go off and we'd have to figure out right away what was going on, find the right protocol ourselves and then self-organize to respond. There were definitely times when we were being tested under stress."

The simulated flight ended in December. The HERA experiment (Human Exploration Research Analog) studied crew isolation and included growing plants and tending shrimp, along with daily exercise, maintaining scientific experiments and leisure activities such as board games and reading books. The data will be used in preparation for the Artemis mission to the Moon and Mars.

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Willis has had previous experience with isolation, doing fieldwork in Greenland and Antarctica as she earned her master's degree. She said, "Maybe we got lucky, or the psychological evaluation we all had to go through really worked, but we all got along well. We all had a very similar sense of humor. I was surprised that I didn't feel the need for more alone time."

Willis is a doctoral candidate at the Bozeman university's ecology and environmental science program. She is studying microbes trapped in Antarctic ice to try to understand how life might survive in icy moons or planets. She works in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering with professor Christine Foreman. MSU has developed close connections to projects at NASA.

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