NASA enlists four volunteers on a one-year mission in a simulated Martian habitat

On June 25, 2023, a crew of four volunteers entered a simulated Martian habitat, from which they would not emerge for more than a year. Their mission: to learn more about the logistics – and human psychology – of living on another planet for long periods of time without ever leaving the place.

The mission, called CHAPEA (Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog), is the first of three planned simulations between now and 2026, each of which will gradually teach scientists more about what is needed for long-term human spaceflight. flights would succeed.

CHAPEA is located at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The habitat, called Mars Dune Alpha, is a 1,700-square-foot 3D-printed living space where the crew will live, work, exercise, sleep and conduct experiments.

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Using the magic of virtual reality, the mission will also include Extra Vehicle Activities (EVAs), where crew members will temporarily leave their habitat to enter an adjacent red sand enclosure. They will have to don spacesuits for these simulated spacewalks.

The crew of four has a star-studded resume, including Kelly Haston (biologist), Ross Brockwell (engineer), Nathan Jones (doctor) and Anka Selariu (naval microbiologist). They had to pass the same tests as astronaut candidates before they were approved for a mission.

“The knowledge gained here will help us send people to Mars and bring them home safely,” CHAPEA principal investigator Grace Douglas said just before the volunteers entered their habitat.

Ingress ceremony on June 25, 2023, when four CHAPEA crew members arrive at Mars Dune Alpha for their year-long mission.

There is more to the mission than proximity. The crew will only be able to communicate with the outside world with a time delay. On Mars, messages can take up to 22 minutes to reach Earth, and this limit applies to CHAPEA (it’s 44 minutes round trip). The crew will also adhere to freeze-dried food similar to the Mars astronauts. eat and follow a real mission-like activity schedule.

“They are about to launch an analog mission that includes operations, logistics and research into living and working on Mars. The importance of this research cannot be overstated,” said Judith Hayes, chief science officer of the Human Health and Performance Directorate. physical and behavioral aspects.”

Even the habitat itself is designed with space missions in mind. Getting everything needed to Mars from Earth is expensive, so their habitat was 3D printed to test in situ resource utilization technologies. The habitat includes features such as airlocks, hatches, and a medical station. Although the crew can go to emergency medical care, they hope to be able to deal with minor health issues on their own.

Of course, CAPEA cannot simulate everything. The crew won’t have to deal with the gravity of Mars, for example. But there will be “surprise” challenges, such as equipment failures or water shortages.

Ultimately, the idea behind CHAPEA is to learn what human behavior challenges might arise in an extended mission. By practicing here on Earth, NASA can be better prepared for future Mars-bound astronauts to do it for real.

The CHAPEA1 crew will emerge from isolation in July 2024.

Find out more:

“The Year of Mars” In Houston, we have a Podcast.

Featured Image: A simulated Martian exterior that the CHAPEA team will explore during the EVA. Credit: NASA.

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