Voxer-Using NASA Crew “Lands” Back on Earth

By Jim Panttaja, Head of Corporate Development and Member of Voxer’s Founding Team

Simulating Mars
As I drove down Saddle Road in Hawaii early Saturday morning, I took a look around me. Was I on Mars? No, but it certainly looked like it. I was headed to the HI-SEAS (Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation) habitat, where a team of six scientists who had been cooped up in a habitat for eight months, were about to emerge from isolation.

During their mission the HI-SEAS crew used Voxer to communicate with the outside world – with friends, family, and Mission Control. None of whom saw them for the duration. And because they were simulating a Mars Mission, Voxer added a 20-minute delay on every message. Just as it would be if they were actually on Mars.

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The HI-SEAS Habitat peaks over a hillside on my approach.

The habitat is situated on the isolated slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano on the island of Hawaii, 8,200 feet above sea level. The last 2 miles of the journey took me down a single-lane, dirt road – four-wheel drive required.

The view out my windshield is captured in this video from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Given that I had a four-wheel drive vehicle, I offered to drive two journalists for the last portion of the route.

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Members of the press await the emergence of the six scientists on Saturday, June 13.

The Attending Crowd
Around 20 people, 30 cameras, and a drone hovered around “the hab” as we waited for the crew to emerge. The group was comprised of HI-SEAS staff, several of us who had supported the mission in various ways, and members of the press. Also in attendance: fitness guru Tony Horton. The crew used one of his fitness programs during the mission.

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The team of six scientists, with the habitat behind them.

The Wait is Over
The re-emergence was surreal. While waiting outside, we could hear the crew talking inside. Principal investigator Kim Binsted, who was on the outside, texted the crew via their emergency cell phone. She told them it was time to make their exit. Then there was a pause, and silence. It almost seemed like the crew was apprehensive to come out. But then the door opened and out they came, one-by-one, smiles from ear-to-ear.

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Imagine living here for eight months. Pictured: Doors to the sleeping quarters.

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The crew cooked all of their dinners here, each taking turns at being chef for the night.

A Peek Inside
Luckily for me, the crew was then available for interviews, tours of the hab, and photo ops. In some of the first remarks about their experience in the hab, Jocelyn Dunn gave Voxer a shout-out as being essential to communication. Read Jocelyn’s blog post here.

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Members of the U.S. Army’s Golden Knights pose before they load up the HI-SEAS team for an official parachute “landing back on Earth”.

And then the Army Showed Up…
As part of the re-emergence, the United States Army Parachute Team, or Golden Knights offered to “bring the crew back to earth” via a tandem parachute jump. A Chinook helicopter landed near “the hab” and loaded up the crew. The rest of us got back in our cars, and headed down the mountain (about an hour drive) to catch the descent of the crew.

When I did get to the drop site – I had missed the arrival of the first set up jumpers, but was in time to watch the remaining two sets. While waiting, Martha Lenio’s (HI-SEAS Mission Commander) mother, Mary Anne, walked up and introduced herself. My Voxer hat had given me away. She was incredibly appreciative of Voxer. After all, it’s the only way she could talk to her daughter for eight months!

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Incoming!

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Mission commander Martha Lenio lands at the Kona Old Airport Road soccer fields, where she greets her family and friends after not seeing them for eight months.

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Previous Posts on HI-SEAS and Voxer:
Voxing Home from Mars on Christmas Eve
By David Carr, InformationWeek Editor

NASA Mars Simulation Study Spurs Unique Voice App Tech
By Quinten Plummer, Tech Times