The Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, HI-SEAS, is designed to mimic the conditions astronauts will face on a trip to Mars. HI-SEAS volunteers eat dehydrated food, recycle their bodily waste and can’t go outside without a spacesuit. There is no TV or internet. There is also no escape from each other or the monotony of isolation.
In the podcast “The Habitat,” journalist Lynn Levy follows a group of HI-SEAS volunteers over the course of a year. Communicating with them through audio diaries, she explores their motivations, personality quirks and the different relationships that blossom or strain against tension.
Strangers in tight quarters always make for an tantalizing story, as vapid reality TV has proven, but the seven-part podcast expertly adds real science and history. Each 30-minute episode jumps back and forth between the volunteers’ experience and rarely discussed details about space exploration.
Levy puts things in layman’s terms, like how poop and pee have created a lot of problems in space. In another episode, she looks at NASA’s position on sex in space after two astronauts hid the fact they were married in order to go on a mission together. NASA denies there was any funny business.
These things matter because, as the podcast shows, people are unpredictable. If they’re a million miles from Earth, this could mean the difference between mission success and failure. But Levy reasons that unpredictability is why humans, not robots, must eventually make the trip.