NASA has announced the selection of four participants for its upcoming one-year analog mission designed to simulate living on Mars. The mission, known as CHAPEA (Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog), will be conducted at the Johnson Space Center in Houston and is the first of three planned one-year Mars surface simulations.
The selected crew members will live and work in a 3D-printed, 1,700-square-foot habitat, where they will face simulated challenges of a human mission to Mars, including resource limitations, equipment failure, communication delays, and other environmental stressors.
CHAPEA’s Role In Gathering Valuable Data
According to Grace Douglas, CHAPEA principal investigator, “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. Ultimately, this information will help NASA make informed decisions to design and plan for a successful human mission to Mars.”
NASA’s Artemis program aims to establish a long-term presence on the Moon for science and exploration, with the knowledge gained being used to send the first astronauts to Mars in the future. The participants for the CHAPEA mission were selected through NASA’s 2021 call for applicants. The four crew members and two backup crew members are set to begin their analog mission in June 2023, paving the way for further space exploration and human missions to the Red Planet..
The Crew Members Of NASA’s CHAPEA Mission
The crew is composed of four members and two backup crew members, each with a unique skill set. The four crew members are Kelly Haston, the crew’s commander and a research scientist with experience building models of human disease; Ross Brockwell, a structural engineer, and public works administrator; Nathan Jones, a board-certified emergency medicine physician specializing in prehospital and austere medicine, and Alyssa Shannon, an advanced practice nurse with a strong interest in data visualization. Meanwhile, the backup crew members are Trevor Clark, a senior principal engineer in the aerospace and defense industry, and Anca Selariu, a microbiologist in the U.S. Navy.
The 1,700 Square-Foot Habitat Called “Mars Dune Alpha”
The crew members of NASA’s CHAPEA missions will experience the day-to-day challenges of living on Mars within the confines of their living quarters. The 1,700 square-foot habitat, named “Mars Dune Alpha,” will serve as their home for a year, complete with two bathrooms, a vertical farm for growing salad, a medical care room, an area for relaxation, and workstations for conducting scientific experiments.
To simulate the harsh environment of Mars, the habitat features an airlock leading to an “outdoor” reconstruction of the Martian environment, which houses a variety of equipment that astronauts would likely use on the planet’s surface. This equipment includes a weather station, a brick-making machine, a small greenhouse, and a treadmill. The treadmill will allow the crew members to simulate walking on the red planet’s surface while being suspended from straps to simulate its lower gravity.
The 3D-printed structure of the habitat represents a potential technology for building habitats on other planetary or lunar surfaces. NASA is exploring different options for building sustainable habitats in space, and 3D printing has emerged as a promising option for constructing future space habitats.
Although NASA’s primary focus is on the upcoming Artemis mission, which aims to return humans to the Moon for the first time in half a century, the agency is also in the early stages of preparation for a mission to Mars. The CHAPEA mission is one of the ways NASA is working towards this goal by gathering valuable data on the challenges and potential solutions for long-duration human missions to Mars.