These six people simulated a mission to Mars on a Hawaiian volcano

This report aired on PBS NewsHour Weekend on June 14, 2015.

A NASA-funded study is focusing on the psychological impact of a potential mission to Mars. For the past eight months, six people have been living in a self-sustaining 1,000 square-foot dome on the Mauna Loa Volcano in Hawaii, cut off from the outside world. It is the longest space-travel simulation to take place in the United States. Saskia de Melker reports.

Producer/Writer: Saskia de Melker
Correspondent: Saskia de Melker
Camera:  Saskia de Melker and Sam Weber
Additional Video: University of Hawaii, HI-SEAS crew
Editor: Judith Wolff
 

A tale of two grid defectors: Why some are quitting electric companies in Hawaii

This story was published on PBS NewsHour on April 11, 2015.

Dave Greene, who is living off the grid in Hawaii, stands in front of his house. NewsHour photo by Saskia de Melker Dave Greene, who is living off the grid in Hawaii, stands in front of his house. NewsHour photo by Saskia de Melker

In Hawaii, the combination of sky-high electricity prices and abundant sunshine have made installing solar panels enormously popular. In fact, the state has the highest percentage of rooftop solar users in the country.

And while most of those who have installed panels still remain tied to the local electrical grid in order to store the energy they produce and get energy when there’s no sunshine, some residents have also installed their own battery storage system to move off the grid completely.

In the video above, learn more about how two men in Hawaii have cut manged to cut ties with local utility providers and live off the grid.

Whether as a hobby or as an experiment in energy independence, both agree it’s only a matter of time before more people make the switch to also become grid defectors.

Video by Saskia de Melker

Gridlocked by the power grid: Why Hawaii’s solar energy industry is at a crossroads

This report aired on PBS NewsHour Weekend on April 11, 2015.

In some parts of Hawaii, where many homeowners have installed rooftop panels to capitalize on federal and state tax credits for using solar energy, the local utility company has slowed down approvals of new solar systems, saying that abundant users may threaten the safety and reliability of the power grid. As the popularity of rooftop solar spreads, many Americans could soon enter the same gridlock. NewsHour special correspondent Mike Taibbi reports.

Producer: Sam Weber
Associate Producer: Saskia de Melker
Correspondent/Writer: Mike Taibbi
Camera:   Sam Weber and Saskia de Melker
Editor: David Kreger

Hawaii’s aquarium fish industry in deep water over collection controversies

This report aired on PBS NewsHour Weekend on February 15, 2015.

A proposed bill in Hawaii has ignited renewed discussion about the impact of the state’s largest aquarium fishery, which catches hundreds of thousands of gem-like saltwater fish each year for shipment to collectors around the world. Supporters say the industry is sustainable and regulated. But environmental activists say the practice is destructive and depletes populations of popular fish species.
Producers: Sam Weber and Saskia de Melker
Correspondent: Mike Taibbi
Camera:  Sam Weber and Saskia de Melker
Editor: Judith Wolff

Whistleblowers win with False Claims Act, but does it actually deter fraud?

This report aired on PBS NewsHour Weekend on December 21, 2014.

Last year alone, the federal government and its whistleblowers — people incentivized by the False Claims Act to expose fraud in companies that work with the government — recovered nearly $6 billion in lawsuits that exposed wrongdoing. But some question whether the False Claims Act actually prevents fraud or merely incentivizes people with potential reward money.

Producers: Sam Weber and Saskia de Melker
Camera: Sam Weber and Saskia de Melker
Editors: Saskia de Melker and Judith Wolff
Correspondent: Rick Karr

 

Rap lyrics used as evidence in criminal cases

This report aired on PBS NewsHour Weekend on June 29, 2014.

Based largely on a rap he wrote, and accounts of two witnesses given years after the shooting, rapper Antwain Steward was arrested and charged with double murder. Critics contend rap is a musical art form that should not be taken as evidence of criminal behavior. But some prosecutors say they don’t buy the argument that the work is all fiction.

Producers/Writers: William Brangham and Saskia de Melker
Correspondent: William Brangham
Camera:  William Brangham and Saskia de Melker
Editor: David Kreger