Four volunteers have just entered a simulated Mars habitat where they’ll live for the next year.
The exercise is part of preparations for NASA’s first crewed mission to the red planet, which could take place in the late 2030s.
Alyssa Shannon, Ross Brockwell, Kelly Haston, and Nathan Jones entered the facility and closed the door behind them following a ceremony at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Texas on Sunday evening.
NASA Johnson tweeted the moment the four volunteers began their 378-day stay, during which they’ll be remotely observed by a team of NASA researchers.
“CHAPEA’s 4-person crew just entered their home for the next year,” NASA Johnson said in the tweet (below). “They’re simulating a Mars mission to help assess health and performance in relation to Mars resource limitations in isolation and confinement. The door is officially closed and the mission has begun. Go Crew 1!”
Speaking a few minutes before the start of their research mission, Haston said, “The crew has worked so hard this month to get ready for this mission. It’s been very special to be a part of such a tremendous group of scientists and specialists from a diverse set of backgrounds, working together to bring CHAPEA 1, the first of three missions, to reality.”
Shannon said she was “honored to be a part of the crew that will make the mission to Mars possible,” adding that she wanted to dedicate their stay “to the people who will step on actual Martian soil.”
The inhabitants will experience many of the challenges of a human mission to Mars, including confinement, resource limitations, equipment failures, and other environmental stressors, NASA said.
An emotional Jones thanked the many people who had made CHAPEA 1 possible, while Brockwell said he was “incredibly honored and excited” to be a part of the project.
To qualify as participants, the volunteers were subjected to the same kind of physical and psychological tests that real astronauts have to undergo. They were also required to have a degree in at least one STEM subject (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).
The 1700-square-foot facility where they’ll be staying contains around nine rooms, including private bedrooms, a shared bathroom and toilet, and a common area.
During their time inside, the participants’ health will be constantly monitored to help mission planners understand how a real crew might handle various elements of a long-duration mission to Mars. The experience will also help NASA to refine the design of a Mars base when it eventually comes to building one.
To make it as realistic as possible, the four volunteers will experience things like communication delays of up to 20 minutes, caused by the vast distance between Earth and the red planet.
During their time inside the facility, the participants will busy themselves with activities such as scientific research, habitat maintenance, crop cultivation, and so-called “Marswalks” on a covered patch of land designed to resemble the Martian surface.
If any of the participants find the conditions unbearable during the 12-month stay, they’ll be allowed to exit the facility, with a backup member stepping in.
For more on the huge challenges facing the launch of a human mission to Mars, check out this Digital Trends article.
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