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Kelowna man finishes mission to Mars

Ross Lockwood took in a breath of muggy Hawaiian air Friday afternoon and revelled at all the sights around him.

The Kelowna-raised physicist had just been released from the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation project after a 120-day stint, and his newfound freedom was nearly eye-popping.

"It's so strange," he said, just hours after being released.

"The thing that's the most striking to me, is that in the dome we didn't realize our vision was dulled by a lack of stimulus. Even when we were outside of the (dome) we were in space suits so we never had a good view of our habitat. Now there's so many details and so much richness … it's like being reborn in a sense."

As all his senses got a wake-up call, Lockwood talked about what it was like to be  one of six researchers that made-up the "Mars" mission crew.

Together,  stationed in a 1,000 square-foot domed habitat a mile up a rocky road on Hawaii Island’s Mauna Loa volcano, they experienced living conditions future astronauts may face on the red planet.

The overall aim of the simulation, which was funded by NASA and organized by the University of Hawaii, was to understand more about how a crew would adjust to a long-range mission to Mars, both physically and mentally.

"There are real challenges for long duration space missions as far as the crew goes," said Lockwood, adding that a lot of good data for astronaut selection will be gleaned from the HI-SEAS project.

In particular, communication problems born from being in a confined space while working on unstructured tasks in an controlled environment came to the fore.

"Some tasks, where there was a lack of communication, drove a wedge between crew members," he said. "It definitely gave me insight into group dynamics in high pressure environments."

That said, Lockwood was quick to add that tensions were not long-term.

"By all the meal times all the conflict we had would go away, and we would have a  convivial, jovial and friendly experience," he said.

Although Lockwood has been released from the simulation site, he's not quite done with the project.

He was heading to a press conference as he ended the conversation with the Capital News, and there would be further debriefing and media interviewing down the road.

All of which the media savvy scientist will likely take in stride. Since being involved in the project, he's been featured in news publications across the country as well as points across the globe.

To follow Lockwood go to http://spincrisis.net

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