5 mins read 18 Mar 2021

Connecting Young People to the HI-SEAS Moonbase on Earth

The HI-SEAS program features six crew members who go into an analogous space research station (located on the side of a Hawaiian volcano) to simulate how humans would survive in such scenarios on the Moon or Mars, away from the rest of us. Jonathan Nalder shares how young Australian students are working alongside this exciting project.

The HI-SEAS Moonbase analog located atop a volcano in Hawaii. Credit: Dr. Michaela Musilova.

The date was 7 September 2020. The world was at the height of isolation and lockdown due to the Coronavirus. On the 2.5 km high remote mountain top of Mauna Loa in Hawaii, 6 intrepid travellers prepared to leave it all behind by going to the moon. This was the crew of Selene I - travellers to the space research station/habitat used for lunar and Martian analog missions known as HI-SEAS - for ‘Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation’.

And simulation is what HI-SEAS is all about. Since 2013 with the involvement of NASA’s Human Research Programs, it has been one of the world’s premier research centres for answering ‘how will humans cope with living on the Moon or Mars’ by hosting teams for weeks or sometimes months at a time to practice and try to ‘pre-create' the conditions that Astronauts will face.

The HI-SEAS Habitat has a usable floor space of ~1200 square metres, small sleeping quarters for a crew of six, a kitchen, laboratory, two bathrooms, simulated airlock and engineering work area. The site was chosen for its Mars and Moon-like landscape which allows researchers to perform high-fidelity geological fieldwork and add to the realism of the mission simulation.

The Selene-1 crew. Credit: Dr. Michaela Musilova.

The location also includes a wide variety of volcanic features crews can explore such as lava tubes. It is visually isolated and has a cool, dry climate that varies very little over the year, enabling long-duration missions.

Naturally, such a prestigious research centre is not accessible to the general interested public, and certainly not to primary and high school students. But under the leadership of Dr Michaela Musilova who has commanded over 20 missions, HI-SEAS has made a concerted effort to outreach to just such students who represent the future participants the site will need. This includes working with the STARS Program (STEM Aerospace Research Scholars) for high school girls in Hawaii and supporting STEM Punks primary school classes supported out of Australia.

The Selene 1 entered the habitat on 7 September 2020 as the first post-Coronavirus crew with the goal of simulating a Moon mission. The members were Astrobiologist and Commander Michaela Musilova, Vice Commander J.J. Hastings, Operations Officer and UAS pilot Paul Bakken, Crew Engineer Bailey Burns, Bioengineer Elliot Roth and Manufacturing Specialist Jessica Snyder. 

The Selene-1 crew working on their projects. Credit: HI-SEAS.

As with all HI-SEAS crews, each member brings a research project. Roth was studying how to use algae as a food source during human missions to space, Bakken was developing an improved airlock system to protect the habitats doorway, Snyder explored how 3D printing might support bioengineering and Burns focused on studying her cognitive ability in isolation by completing a Rubik’s cube a day.

Despite the demands of these projects and the Habitat maintenance, daily routines and EVAs that the crew were tasked with - they did also take time to interact with primary and high school students from Australia. 

As you can learn from previous Space Australia articles, I’m passionate about how students of any interest and background can find their way in STEM via a creative problem-solving approach - and thanks to a partnership between Dr Michaela, HI-SEAS and the Education organisation STEM Punks of which I am a part, we found a way despite lockdowns and a crew that was on the ‘moon’ to link kids at home with space practitioners in the field.

This process involved coordinating the collection of questions from kids (most of whom were in isolation themselves due to COVID19 restrictions) via their parents using social media such as this post.

The questions the crew felt best spoke to their expertise were responded to and posted back on the HI-SEAS official Facebook page here only 3 days later, and one student (see the one about water on a spaceship) was chosen by Dr Michaela herself as the winner of a Merge Cube used for Augmented Reality learning in STEM Punks online space base classes.

Some of the questions and answers that formed part of the interactions throughout the program. Credit: HI-SEAS Facebook Page.

At such a time of isolation, this project was a wonderful way to highlight what kids and space base researchers had in common - as well as connect and inspire those same kids to dream beyond their homes and virtual classrooms of a career in STEM and Space. Thanks again to Dr Michaela, Hi-SEAS and the crew of Selene I for embracing this opportunity.



Through over 20 years in Education, Jonathan (MEd, BA/ BEd) has seen how life-long learning, digital tools (STEAM, AR/VR, mobile) & ‘spacethinking’ transform lives. Now, as founder of the First Kids on Mars, Space Futures Coach for STEM Punks, an Advance Queensland Digital Champion, SpaceNation activity designer, HundrEd Advisor (Finland) & CoSpaces AR/VR Ambassador, he actively helps leaders & learners shift thinking to embrace the coming fully digital, and ‘off-Earth’ era as their most human selves via tools developed for STEM Punks and the Future Ready Framework (FutureWe.org/framework). 

Recently Jonathan’s work was recognised as part of STEM Punks receiving the global Big Innovation Award 2021. He also presented at the Space Habitat Event in late 2020 with HI-SEAS Commander Dr Michaela Musilova, spoke at the world’s largest Education conference ISTE online about a Dark Skies project, and was recognised by CleverBooks as a Top 50 innovator with Augmented Reality.