Members of the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) "returned to Earth" yesterday afternoon, following a 4-month, simulated mission to space.

"Space analog" studies like HI-SEAS and Mars-500 (a 500-day experiment, meant to subject crew to the conditions of a full, 500-day mission to Mars) are providing us with insights into how people work together when confined to closed quarters for long periods of time, as they would be on an actual deep-space mission.

"Being isolated from the world is tough to deal with, even when you've got company," said Kim Binsted, associate professor at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa and principal investigator for the HI-SEAS research effort. "HI-SEAS will help us to understand how teams of astronauts will perform under the isolation conditions required for long-duration space travel—such as the kind of trips it would take for humans to get to Mars."

What they can't simulate, however, is the feeling you get when your team is tens of millions of miles away from any other human life.

Still, studies like HI-SEAS – which also incorporated simulated explorations of a planet's surface – vital if we're to understand the challenges that the first deep space crews will face.

Welcome home, HI-SEAS!