Living like Martians

Former Clevelander Jay Bevington researching feasibility of living on Mars

By CHRISTY ARMSTRONG Banner Staff Writer
Posted 1/29/17

A former Cleveland resident is now commanding a NASA-funded mission to study the possibility of people traveling to and living on Mars.

James “Jay” Bevington, a 28-year-old independent …

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Living like Martians

Former Clevelander Jay Bevington researching feasibility of living on Mars

Posted

A former Cleveland resident is now commanding a NASA-funded mission to study the possibility of people traveling to and living on Mars.

James “Jay” Bevington, a 28-year-old independent researcher, is commander of the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, or HI-SEAS, Mission V on the Big Island of Hawaii.

This mission, which began earlier this month, has six people living and working in a geodesic dome for eight months to study what it would take for people to be able to live on Mars for long periods of time.

HI-SEAS is a project of University of Hawaii at Mānoa and is funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Behavioral Health and Performance division.

“The thing I am most excited about for HI-SEAS is the camaraderie,” Bevington said in an email. “We have a crew of highly qualified, talented, accomplished individuals who are among the most humble, good natured people I have ever met. The combination of these traits is rare, and we have been able to bond rapidly because of it. I can only imagine how close we will be after eight months.” 

The crew will be living in a “habitat” which features 1,200 square feet of floor space and is located on the Mauna Loa volcano, a location chosen for the land’s visual resemblance to the surface of Mars.

The crew is conducting a variety of experiments related to geological fieldwork and life systems management, all while in an environment meant to mimic what it might be like to live in a settlement on Mars.

In addition to conducting specific research projects, crew members are having to approach basic tasks like food preparation and exercise in new ways. For example, Bevington explained crew members are only cooking food at certain times of the day, to take advantage of when the sun is providing the facility with the most solar power.

While the facility might start to feel a bit more crowded once the crew reaches the eight-month mark, Bevington said the facility is actually more spacious than he thought it might be.

“When you first arrive at the ‘hab,’ it looks really small from the outside. However, once you walk in it seems much larger,” Bevington said. “We have plenty of space and a private bedroom.”

While the crew is living in relative comfort on Earth, he noted there have been measures taken to make the experience as much like space as possible.

For example, the crew’s communication with the outside world is limited to text-based messages relayed through email and a specialized communication system. These messages are relayed on a 20-minute delay to replicate the time it would take for messages to be transmitted to and from Mars.

The “habitat” is also equipped with a simulated airlock, and the crew members are supposed to wear spacesuits any time they go outside to work.

This is not the first time a study like this has taken place. In fact, HI-SEAS Mission V is just the latest mission of its kind in Hawaii.

“Since 2012, HI-SEAS has been contributing to NASA’s plans for long-duration space exploration,” said Kim Binsted, principal investigator for HI-SEAS and professor with the University of Hawaii.

“We are an international collaboration of crew, researchers and mission support, and I’m proud of the part we play in helping reduce the barriers to a human journey to Mars.”

While HI-SEAS is the latest project to study the possibility of living in space, other projects may be more well-known to many on the mainland.

Biosphere 2, a structure which was built in Arizona in the 1990s, became infamous for its failure. Among the problems crew members faced was the fact they reportedly struggled to get along with each other.

Because of this, the study of behavioral science is actually playing a big part in the HI-SEAS missions’ work.

While the story of Biosphere 2 is still serving as a cautionary tale for the latest HI-SEAS researchers, Bevington said he is optimistic his crew will succeed. He noted the proof is in how well the crew has bonded so far.

“This bonding is one of the aspects that the research team is studying, and I hope our crew can inform not only crew selection for future human exploration missions but also for all teams such as those at work, school and recreational organizations,” Bevington said. “If every team could bond like we have, the world would be a better place.” 

While he is now leading a high-profile research team, Bevington was years ago just another young boy who would spend his summers helping on a family farm in Bradley County.

Bevington grew up in Louisiana, but he lived in Cleveland for a short time in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast region.

“My mom grew up in Cleveland, and my grandparents have been there most of their lives,” Bevington said. “I grew up in Louisiana but spent summers on our farm, which has been in the family since 1896.

“After high school, Cleveland became my permanent address, making me the sixth generation to live on the farm. The vast majority of my high school time was spent in Louisiana at Mandeville High School. However, I did attend Bradley High for three weeks during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, making me the third generation to do so.” 

Whether he was living out his life in Louisiana or on the Tennessee farm, he developed a love for science.

His grandfather, Thomas Newman, said he often talked about wanting to study ways to help prevent natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina from having such a dramatic effect on the environment and the cities in the storms’ paths.

“He did have a big imagination, and he was always coming up with ideas,” Newman said. “It’s amazing how he has taken ideas like that and started a career out of it.’ 

After high school, Bevington went to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in biosystems engineering. He then earned a master’s degree in environmental engineering from the University of Georgia.

However, Bevington later decided to shift his focus to the study of space. He explained he made that shift by enrolling in International Space University in Strasbourg, France, to pursue a master’s degree in space studies.

“I can’t cite a specific thing that got me interested in space,” Bevington said. “Space is one of the few science fields that kids really love, and I think I just never really grew out of it.” 

Since shifting his focus toward space, he has been involved with several research projects around the world. These have included work with researchers at University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

While beginning work on a doctorate degree in space life sciences, Bevington helped develop an experiment bound for the International Space Station.

Unfortunately, this project just so happened to be one of the ones which was destroyed in a rocket explosion. In September 2016, a SpaceX rocket being prepared for launch blew up in a fueling accident before it had ever left the launch pad.

“Since the rocket launch failed, his study was delayed,” his grandfather said. “But he is going to stay busy with his new project in Hawaii.” 

Bevington and his five fellow crew members were chosen from among hundreds of applicants. Officials from the University of Hawaii describe the crew as consisting or “astronaut-like” researchers who have a great deal of experience in various areas of scientific research.

While manned missions to Mars are still not an immediate possibility, the latest HI-SEAS crew is contributing to research which could help lay the groundwork for manned missions.

As one might expect, this is giving his family in Cleveland plenty of reason to be proud.

“We’re proud of him the way all grandparents are proud of their grandchildren,”grandmother Sally Newman quipped. “He was just like any other child — but he loves an adventure.”

After years of scientific study, Bevington is now in the middle of his latest adventure.

When he was a young boy, one his grandmother referred to as “quiet and unassuming,” neither Bevington or his family knew he would eventually be helping the possibility of human space travel to Mars.

Bevington takes a lighthearted view of the path he has taken in his life and career so far. On a blog he started just prior to the HI-SEAS mission starting, https://jamesonmars.wordpress.com, he playfully described himself as “just some kid with a mohawk that for whatever reason thinks a 9 to 5 is boring.” 

He acknowledged his journey has taken a great deal of work — and many years of post-secondary education. However, his journey has been one fueled by enthusiastic curiosity and dreams of making significant contributions in his field.

Bevington has a few words of advice to offer to any young people who might be thinking of reaching toward the stars — whether they be proverbial ones or literal ones.

“The sky is the limit only if you let it be. Think bigger and go beyond,” Bevington said. “Your future is what you decide to make it. We live at a time where we have access to vast amounts of knowledge and can connect to almost anyone in the world. The only limit to what you can accomplish is your own imagination.” 

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