Olav Krigolson, neuroscientist and associate director of UVic’s Centre for Biomedical Research, in front of the HI-SEAS Analog Habitat in Hawaii on a previous trip. (File contributed/ Olav Krigolson)

Trio of UVic scientists launch into NASA-sponsored Mars simulation

Neuroscience researchers hope to learn the effects of stress and fatigue on astronauts

Three University of Victoria associates are about to head out on a NASA-sponsored simulation of life on Mars.

Olav Krigolson, neuroscientist and associate director of UVic’s Centre for Biomedical Research, is co-leading a study that hopes to see brain-tracking technology to study the effects of mental stress on astronauts on long-term space missions. To do so, Krigolson and his team have been using MUSE electroencephalography (EEG) brain wave tracking devices and created software along with developer, SUVA Technologies, to craft an easy, hand-held device to track what a brain is doing live.

The proposal prompted NASA to ask for a team of volunteers to test out the technology in a Mars simulation.

ALSO READ: B.C. students help design space colony in NASA-backed competition

Now Krigolson along his two PhD students, Chad Williams and Tom Ferguson, and professors from the University of Calgary, the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan Campus and the University of Hawaii will spend one week in a simulated Mars habitat while wearing the technology.

The simulation starts on Dec. 1 at the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) Mars Habitat. The small space is comprised of a modest white dome with a single shared living space, and limited privacy. Participants will need to pretend they are in space, and can therefore not leave the habitat unless they’re in a full space suit.

ALSO READ: NASA wants Canadian boots on the moon as first step in deep space exploration

“You can walk across the whole structure in about five or six seconds,” Krigolson said, recalling the last time he was in the base for a total of one day. This time, he and the rest of the team will be there for a week.

“I’m curious to see how our brains works in that environment and changes in a week,” he said. “I expect to see an increase in fatigue and stress.”

Chad Williams is a PhD student in neuroscience who has never been to the Mars Habitat before.

“I’m very excited because how often to you get to pretend you’re on Mars?” Williams said. “We do a lot of studies about how people interact… but I’m glad I’m doing it myself, especially if we want astronauts to use it. It’s valuable for us to know what they’re going through.”

Krigolson is confident that the technology will work, and prove to be a valuable resource for NASA. If all goes well, the technology will next be used in a one-year simulation before it heads out of orbit.

The recorded brain wave information will be streamed live throughout the simulation, and will be accessible at krigolsonlab.com.

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com

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