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Business News/ Science / News/  NASA seals volunteers into isolated Mars-like habitat for year-long experiment
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NASA seals volunteers into isolated Mars-like habitat for year-long experiment

The objective of the Nasa mission is to learn more about the logistics – and the human psychology – of living long-term on another planet, without ever leaving the ground.

A simulated Mars exterior portion of the CHAPEA's Mars Dune Alpha at the Johnson Space center in Houston, Texas (AFP)Premium
A simulated Mars exterior portion of the CHAPEA's Mars Dune Alpha at the Johnson Space center in Houston, Texas (AFP)

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) last month sealed four volunteers into a simulated Martian habitat for a-year long analogue mission to simulate living on Mars. The objective of the mission is to learn more about the logistics – and the human psychology – of living long-term on another planet, without ever leaving the ground.

CHAPEA or Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog, is the first of three planned simulation missions at Nasa’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas  which will teach scientists more about what it takes for long-duration human spaceflight to succeed.

The 1,700 square-foot 3D-printed living space, in which the crew will live, work, exercise, sleep, and perform experiments for a year is called Mars Dune Alpha.

The four-member crew includes Kelly Haston (a biologist), Ross Brockwell (a structural engineer), Nathan Jones (a physician), and Anca Selariu (a Navy microbiologist). All the volunteers had to pass the same testing as astronaut candidates do before being approved for a mission.

The mission will also involve Extra Vehicular Activities (EVAs), in which crew members will briefly leave their habitat to enter an adjacent enclosure complete with red sand. All the four volunteers will have to don space suits for these simulated spacewalks.

"The simulation will allow us to collect cognitive and physical performance data to give us more insight into the potential impacts of long-duration missions to Mars on crew health and performance," Grace Douglas, CHAPEA principal investigator, in a statement.

"Ultimately, this information will help NASA make informed decisions to design and plan for a successful human mission to Mars," Douglas added.

The crew will only be able to communicate with the outside world on a time delay. On Mars, messages can take up to 22 minutes to reach Earth, and that restriction is being applied to CHAPEA (that's 44 minutes round-trip).

The crew will also follow a diet of freeze-dried foods, similar to what Martian astronauts will have to eat, and keep a schedule of activities similar to a real mission.

"They are about to embark on an analog mission that encompasses operations, logistics, and research of living and working on Mars. The importance of this study cannot be overstated," says Judith Hayes, Chief Science Officer, Human Health and Performance Directorate.

"NASA scientists will learn critical insights on the physical and behavioral aspects of a mission on Mars."

Even the habitat itself is designed with space missions in mind. Bringing everything you need to Mars from Earth is cost prohibitive, so their habitat was 3D printed to test out in-situ resource utilization technologies.

The habitat includes features like airlocks, hatches, and a medical station. While the crew can leave for medical emergencies, they hope they will be able to deal with minor health concerns independently.

Of course, CHAPEA can't simulate everything. The crew will not have to deal with Martian gravity, for example. But there will be 'surprise' challenges, like equipment failures or water shortages.

The CHAPEA1 crew will emerge from their isolation in July 2024. CHAPEA's other two missions --2 and 3 will be conducted in 2025 and 2026, respectively.

(With input from agencies)

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Published: 05 Jul 2023, 01:45 AM IST
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