A year on Mars: NASA simulation completed

A year on Mars: NASA simulation completed
A year on Mars: NASA simulation completed

Lived without windows for a year: Ross Brockwell, Kelly Haston, Nathan Jones and Anca Selariu

The first mission of the so-called “Chapea” program ended on Saturday (local time) in Houston (Texas), after the two women and two men left the 160 square meter Mars simulation area.

The project will make it possible to “learn important things about complex systems, and it will make the journey to Mars and back much safer,” said Julie Kramer, technical director of the US space agency NASA. She announced further similar “Chapea” missions for 2025 and 2027.

A year without windows

The NASA experiment was planned to last just over a year: four people lived on the NASA site for 378 days. The windowless “Mars Dune Alpha” was created using a 3D printer. The volunteers were not allowed to leave.

The visibly moved test astronauts appeared in front of the cameras with short messages before they were allowed to return to their families. “We can do these things together,” said Ross Brockwell, looking ahead to a trip to Mars. “We can use our sense of wonder and purpose to achieve peace and prosperity and release knowledge and joy for the benefit of all people across the Earth.”

“Wonderful experience”

The NASA experiment was a wonderful experience, Brockwell continued. “And I really hope that it brings us a little closer to the reality of seeing people on Mars.” The “Chapea” (Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog) program is designed to help NASA one day bring people back to the moon – and later to Mars.

According to current planning, this could happen in the 2030s at the earliest. With the “Artemis” program, named after the Greek goddess of the moon, NASA wants to bring people to the moon for the first time in more than half a century – including the first non-white person and the first woman. The long-term goal of “Artemis” is to build a permanent moon base as a basis for manned missions to Mars.

Participants were not astronauts

The four participants in the first “Chapea” mission were not trained NASA astronauts. Anyone between the ages of 30 and 55 who is “healthy and motivated”, does not smoke, and has US citizenship or permanent residency, a university degree in natural sciences, and at least 1,000 flight hours could apply.

In addition to Brockwell, who organizes public works in the US state of Virginia, the biologist Kelly Haston from San Francisco, the doctor and father of three Nathan Jones from the US state of Illinois and the microbiologist Anca Selariu were selected.

Simulation on 160 square meters

For a year, the four lived in 160 square meters – with sleeping cells measuring about two by three meters, a kind of living room with a television and armchairs, work tables with computers and a medical station. The four inmates were allowed to communicate with family and friends – but in “Mars time”, which means that even sending a short text message usually took 22 minutes.

In a small outdoor area, the four residents simulated Mars spacewalks. They also had to maintain the facility and exercise, including on exercise bikes. “To make it as Mars-like as possible, the crew is also confronted with environmental stress factors – for example, limited resources, isolation and broken equipment,” said NASA. The aim was also to study the astronauts’ reaction to the psychological stress.

“Chapea” is not the first experiment of this kind. Among other things, NASA has already collected experience and data in a simulation area in Hawaii with the “Hi Seas” missions, as did the space agencies of Europe, Russia and China almost 15 years ago with the “Mars 500” project. And it is set to continue: NASA has two more “Chapea” missions in the planning stages, the next one is scheduled to launch in spring 2025.

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