TODAY | March 29, 2014
>>> way in hawaii , where researchers are hoping to simulate what life on mars would really be like. nasa hand picked six people to live inside, all in hopes of preparing for a future manned mission to the red planet . the weather channel 's dave malkoff was the only tv correspondent allowed inside.
>> reporter: the big island of hawaii is not a place that would remind most folks of dead, isolated planet mars , but it doesn't all look like this. take a two-hour drive up the side of a still active volcano , you may just forget which planet you're on.
>> my name is paul, ceo and director of blue planet research.
>> reporter: it's the company that's building this nasa -funded, university of hawaii project. a very realistic martian colony for a handful of astronauts -- make that astro-nots. they will live here in isolation. every time they step outside, they wear a space suit . it only comes off inside the bubble.
>> okay, this is the entrance to the habitat.
>> reporter: this is it. this is where they'll live.
>> this is where they're going to live in isolation for 4 months, 8 months and 12 months.
>> reporter: 700 people applied to live here.
>> behind you is the dining room and dining area. there's a full kitchen back here.
>> reporter: nasa wants to know how humans will eat --
>> there are six bedroom pods upstairs.
>> reporter: -- and sleep.
>> privacy's important. every human needs to have down time and be alone.
>> reporter: on mars with a similar isolation, a similar living condition, only --
>> it's a third the gravity. we can only simulate certain things here.
>> reporter: still not convinced hawaii can look like mars? that is breath-taking. that looks exactly like what i see from the mars rover , the surface.
>> it's remarkably similar.
>> that's incredible.
>> reporter: okay, here's mars beamed back from curiosity's camera last month, and here is hawaii today.
>> yeah, it's actually virtually identical to the same material, volcanic rock that they found on mars.
>> reporter: the trip from here to mars and back is 2 1/2 years, and it's not planned until at least 2030 , but these kind of experiments will reduce the risks for the folks who will eventually be inside those rockets. for "today," dave malkoff , high over