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Slovak Astrobiologist Off to Mars (Kind Of)

Young scientist becomes one of a chosen few for a NASA-funded mission to explore what life might be like on the Red Planet. 7 February 2018

It’s not so often that NASA reaches into Central Europe and plucks out a local scientist to participate in a groundbreaking expedition, but that’s the case with Michaela Musilova, a Slovak astrobiologist. Starting next week, she will be participating in an eight-month stint on a volcano in Hawaii meant to simulate a mission on Mars, The Slovak Spectator reports.

 

Getting there wasn’t easy. After a process that took over a year, NASA chose the five-member crew from more than 1,000 applicants. The 28-year-old Musilova is an expert on life in extreme environments and that background should serve her well as she conducts research around the mission site, which will be on Mauna Loa, an active volcano on the island of Hawaii that reaches a height of 4,169 meters (13,679 feet). Conditions there are thought to resemble many places on Mars, says Novinky.cz, a Czech news site, and NASA is interested to test both the physical and psychological effects of such a mission on human beings.

 

Not making things any easier, the crew will spend most of its time in the narrow confines (11 square meters or 120 square feet) of an inflatable house.

 

“NASA is leading the research, so many things are kept secret. I really don’t know what to expect,” Musilova said, as quoted by Novinky.cz. “In this small space, we will work, cook, exercise, and sleep. We will have a prepared program from morning to evening, like astronauts on a space station.”

 

Michaela MusilovaMichaela Musilova, from her Facebook page.

 

“Every member of the crew will get just eight minutes of showering a week. That’s why I preferred to sacrifice half of my hair,” she added.

 

“On my way to ‘Mars,’ and in style,” Musilova wrote yesterday on Facebook, as she left Slovakia. “I guess I'm still in denial about my departure from Earth, my normal life, and about all of the people that I care about and love that I'm leaving behind for quite some time.... I will miss you all dearly. Please send me regular updates over to the Red Planet, I look forward to hearing from you.”

 

 

  • Musilova has dreamed of becoming an astronaut ever since she was eight years old, after visiting the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in the state of Maryland, she told the Slovak website Startitup. “There I could try on an astronaut’s spacesuit, and learn about the first Slovak cosmonaut, Ivan Bella, as well as the last man on the moon, Eugene Cernan, who was half-Slovak.”

 

  • This is Musilova’s third mission of this kind, though the earlier ones were much shorter. Last January, she led a similar mission at the Mars Desert Research Station in southern Utah. “It’s only possible to leave the station in a spacesuit and sleeping there is like in a coffin,” Musilova said, as reported at the time by Novinky.cz. “Of course, it’s completely cut off from the rest of the world, as if we were on another planet.”

 

  • Musilova is also taking a Slovak-developed rover with her to help carry her around as she conducts research on the terrain, The Slovak Spectator says.

 

  • The other members of the crew include a Korean, a Brit, and two Australians.

 

  • According to her LinkedIn profile, Musilova has received various awards, including an Emerging Space Leaders Grant from the International Astronautical Federation (2016) and the Women in Aerospace – Europe Student & Young Professional Award (2016). Forbes Slovakia also named her one of the most promising 30 individuals in the country under the age of 30 in 2015.

 

Compiled by Jeremy Druker

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