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Purdue IE PhD student’s research is “out of this world”

Jocelyn Dunn in spacesuit
For eight months, a Purdue University industrial engineering PhD student lived in a domed habitat on a volcanic landscape in Hawaii mimicking life on a Martian outpost. Jocelyn Dunn participated in the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) Mission 3 with five other “crew members” from Oct. 15, 2014 – June 12, 2015.

She and the other researchers lived in a canvas dome in an abandoned quarry on the northern slope of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano, elevation 8200 feet. The HI-SEAS program focused on the study of social, interpersonal and cognitive factors that affect team performance during long-duration space travel and missions. The HI-SEAS Mission 3 was part of a human performance study funded by NASA, “an immersive environment that is analogous to living on the planet Mars”, according to Dunn. For eight months, the team lived and worked in the dome, only emerging from it to conduct research wearing mock spacesuits. She blogged about the HI-SEAS project during the eight-month experiment.

"I'm not that interested in the spacecraft. I'm interested in the biomedical devices that keep astronauts safe," Dunn told Joseph Paul of the Lafayette Journal & Courier (as quoted in U.S. News & World Report). "I realized we have all these biomedical devices, and there's tons of data streaming out of them, and we need to be able to understand the human performance." She analyzed data from the mission, wrote her dissertation and is now interviewing for jobs.

“I wanted to participate in this eight-month mission because it might be the closest I ever get to living on Mars, and it’s perfectly aligned with my enduring academic interests: space exploration, physiology, and data,” she says.

Her dissertation is focused on real-time data analytics for decision support and system improvement. She explains: “HI-SEAS enabled me to collect valuable data about how sleep quality, activity levels, and stress states of our simulated astronaut crew varied throughout this eight-month mission. In the future, I dream of being on a mission to an asteroid or Mars, but regardless I will continue researching how to improve the health and performance of individuals on Earth and Mars alike.”

Dunn learned intangible lessons as well. “The biggest lesson I learned is that people (myself included) are often preoccupied with maintaining absurd levels of performance, or at least they want others to have the perception that they are performing optimally,” she says. “So it's a lesson of humility and empathy, that we need to be realistic in understanding where we are on any given day and have an openness with ourselves and others. In the dome, everything is observable, so this authenticity or openness is a forced requirement and helped me realize that I need to let go of trying to control how people perceive me in everyday life as well.”

Originally from Sebring, FL, Dunn describes herself on her website as an “Engineer - PhD Candidate - Science Enthusiast”, who grew up watching NASA space shuttle launches. She has a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, a master's degree from the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering at Purdue University, and plans to graduate in the spring of 2016 with a PhD from Purdue’s School of Industrial Engineering.

More information:

Life on Fake Mars”, Purdue Alumnus magazine (Nov/Dec 2015)

HI-SEAS Mission 3

YouTube videos:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDUN2axT31Y&feature=player_embedded (Dawn or Doom Conference at Purdue University, Sept. 15, 2015)

Writer: DeEtte Starr, starrd@purdue.edu