Kim Binsted

Earlier this year, the UH Manoa scientist joined six others in a four-month Mars simulation project on a remote island in the Canadian Arctic.
Photo by Christian Lamontagne

I always wanted to be an astronaut and still do. I’m interested in the great scientific question, “Is there life elsewhere in the universe?” Mars is very Earth-like. So, the question is, “Has there ever been life on Mars?”

A Mars mission would take three years. To find out how well people would do in isolated, crowded, hazardous environments over the long term, we were under conditions as close to those of Mars as you could get. Devon Island is arguably one of the most remote places on the planet. We were only a couple hundred miles from the magnetic North Pole. The station was perched on the rim of a 40-million-year-old crater, so the views were stupendous. Some of the hills were Mars-red, and some were grayish white.

Our quarters were cramped, a total of 1,000 square feet, but half of that was lab space. The good news is that we didn’t kill each other over the four months; we actually got along very well.

We worked almost every day to get soil samples. One of the reasons we did this was to find out what was easy and what was difficult to do in a space suit. You should try opening Ziploc bags with great big gloves sometimes.

I got stuck in the mud. That was very embarrassing. I was crossing what I thought was a dried-up stream bed and sunk instantly up to my thighs. I was there for two hours. There are a lot of polar bears on Devon Island and the idea that one might wander along while I was stuck was not a pleasant thought.