A Year-Long Mission to Prepare for Mars Exploration of NASA
As scientists and engineers continue to develop the capability to send humans to Mars in the near future, four humans will live the dream this summer as they begin living on Mars. However, their Martian homes will be on Earth.
The four volunteers are part of a year-long mission to prepare humans for the exploration of the Red Planet. They will live in a habitat that will simulate conditions on Mars when humans arrive on the Red Planet in the near future.
Environmental Stressors to Replicate Life on Mars
The 3D-printed habitat includes private crew quarters, a kitchen, and dedicated areas for medical, recreation, fitness, work, and crop growth activities, as well as a technical work area and two bathrooms. The crew is scheduled to begin in June this year as the teams obtain the most accurate data during the analog mission.
“During the simulation, crew members will carry out different types of mission activities, including simulated spacewalks, robotic operations, habitat maintenance, personal hygiene, exercise, and crop growth,” NASA said in a statement.
The crew will also face environmental stressors such as resource limitations, isolation, and equipment failure in order to be as close to the situation on Mars when humans arrive. The team will be subjected to resource limitations, isolation, equipment failure, and significant workloads during their habitation.
“The major crew activities during the analog may consist of simulated spacewalks including virtual reality, communications, crop growth, meal preparation and consumption, exercise, hygiene activities, maintenance work, personal time, science work, and sleep,” NASA has said in its mission brief.
Crew members will spend time remotely operating robotic elements, which will likely be necessary for real crews on Mars to extend their exploration capabilities. They will also be responsible for controlling a helicopter-like drone and a roving robot.
Analog Missions Planned by NASA
The American space agency is planning three such analog missions to better understand the requirements for a habitat on our next-door cosmic neighbour. While analog mission one commences this year, the second mission will be conducted in 2025 and the third mission will be followed up in 2026.
“We’re really looking at how the crew performance and health changes based on realistic Mars restrictions and the lifestyle of the crew members. So, the lifestyle is what we’re trying to simulate by setting up a realistic environment and workload for the CHAPEA crew,” Raina MacLeod, CHAPEA deputy project manager said.
The CHAPEA crew, as they’re called, will be living inside a 1,700 square-foot habitat, complete with a life-support system that produces oxygen, filters out carbon dioxide and maintains atmospheric pressure. It is designed to be an environmentally friendly and self-sustaining unit, built out of locally sourced materials and equipped with solar panels for power.
This analog mission is expected to be more challenging than any other such missions undertaken in the past, as the crew will have to live together in close quarters for an entire year. “Isolation and confinement are key aspects of the mission, which will be conducted under COVID-19 conditions,” NASA said.
While the mission aims to prepare humans for the exploration of Mars, it will also provide valuable data for future deep space exploration, including the long-duration human spaceflight to the moon as part of NASA’s Artemis program.
According to NASA, this analog mission will help develop the necessary technology, training, and procedures for future missions to Mars, including the possibility of establishing a permanent human settlement on the Red Planet.
The CHAPEA crew has been selected from a diverse range of backgrounds, including science, engineering, and medicine. They have undergone extensive training in preparation for the mission, including simulated spacewalks, robotic operations, and life support system maintenance.
The mission will be conducted by NASA’s Human Research Program and is being carried out in partnership with the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems (PISCES).