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Tuesday 25 July 2017

This is ground control: Galway student's 'mission to Mars'

The desert location in Utah, where Galway student Ilaria Cinelli led a team of six ‘astronauts’ to prepare for a manned mission to Mars
The desert location in Utah, where Galway student Ilaria Cinelli led a team of six ‘astronauts’ to prepare for a manned mission to Mars

Ryan Nugent

An NUI Galway student led a "mission to Mars" in an extreme assignment into the Utah desert that replicated technological explorations of the red planet.

PhD student Ilaria Cinelli was tasked with leading a mission exploring how people would cope if they lived on Mars. The work was undertaken from the Mars Desert Research Station in the Utah desert in the USA.

Ms Cinelli, originally from Italy, studies in the college of engineering and informatics in Galway.

She explained that the extreme conditions created in the Utah desert were down to a lack of basic supplies - such as food, water, electricity and wifi.

"The purpose of this mission was to investigate the impact of isolation on human behaviour, performance and leadership," Ms Cinelli said.

"The Mars simulation experiment is aimed at increasing the physiological and technical autonomy of the crew in preparation for an actual long-term mission over a number of years," she added.

The desert location in Utah, where Galway student Ilaria Cinelli led a team of six ‘astronauts’ to prepare for a manned mission to Mars
The desert location in Utah, where Galway student Ilaria Cinelli led a team of six ‘astronauts’ to prepare for a manned mission to Mars

During the mission, Ms Cinelli and her team of six were tasked with engineering ways to sustain themselves without support.

It is similar to the challenge that faced the character Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, in the blockbuster movie 'The Martian', where he is left behind on Mars and forced to fend for himself.

"The mission was the first for most of the crew, who had never experienced living in such an extreme environment before," Ms Cinelli said.

"They made great progress throughout the mission by stepping outside of their comfort zone, overcoming stress, increasing control and overall performance," she added.

Ms Cinelli studies in the college of engineering and informatics in Galway
Ms Cinelli studies in the college of engineering and informatics in Galway

Ms Cinelli, in her role as commander, was tasked with logging the behavioural changes of her crew in order to predict future human behaviour on Mars.

Irish Independent

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