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Ross Lockwood, a doctoral candidate in physics at the University of Alberta, is joining the crew of a NASA-funded simulated mission to Mars after beating out hundreds of applicants from around the world.Sarah Martens/The Canadian Press

A Kelowna scientist is joining the crew of a NASA-funded simulated mission to Mars after beating out hundreds of applicants from around the world.

Ross Lockwood and five others will spend four months inside a sealed environment high on the slopes of a Hawaiian mountain.

The main purpose of the mission, starting March 28, is to help the space agency develop psychological guidelines that will be used to select future astronauts capable of making a real trip to Mars.

"It's incredibly exciting to participate in a research project that will be used to help in space exploration," Lockwood said. "I'm really looking forward to this, but I'm also a little bit nervous as well."

Lockwood, 27, is doing his doctorate in condensed matter physics at the University of Alberta.

Along with his longtime interest in space-related research and astronomy, Lockwood has worked in educational programs at the University of Alberta Observatory.

His scientific background and experience in various university leadership roles helped him succeed in his application to participate in the simulated Mars mission, which is led by the University of Hawaii.

The researchers will enter the 11-metre diameter dome built in an old rock quarry at an elevation of 2,500 metres on the slopes of Mauna Loa.

Inside the habitat, they will spend several hours a day taking psychological tests and continuing with their own research endeavours as part of the venture dubbed HI-SEAS, for Hawaii Space Exploration and Analog Simulation.

Lockwood is currently working as an adviser on a project to see whether surgical tools created by a 3-D printer might eventually be used as effectively as real operating room implements.

The researchers will emerge occasionally from their sealed environment, wearing simulated space suits, to take volcanic soil samples, map the rocky terrain, and replicate other tasks that will likely be done by future astronauts on Mars.

Lockwood hasn't yet met his fellow mission participants but group members have spoken to each other by phone and chat weekly on Skype.

"So we're not complete strangers to one another," Lockwood said. "I don't anticipate any problems with us all getting along together."

He plans to use Twitter and Facebook to chronicle his experiences though his communications would be delayed by up to 20 minutes — the time it would take messages to travel from Mars to Earth.

As for one day applying to the Canadian Space Agency to become a real astronaut, Lockwood said: "You just have to live your life hoping that, if an interesting door opens, you can maybe sneak your foot in there before it closes."

Kelowna Daily Courier

14:25ET 27-02-14

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