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NASA begins CHAPEA 1 Mission to "Mars" in Houston

NASA begins CHAPEA 1 Mission to Mars in Houston

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Dakota W.

Dakota W.

Tue Jun 27 2023Written by Dakota W.

NASA has initiated a 378-day mission in which a crew of four volunteers will be confined within a ground-based simulation of Mars at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. This marks the commencement of the first of three year-long simulations known as the Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog (CHAPEA) program. The primary objective of these simulations is to gather data that will aid NASA in preparing for future human missions to Mars. The crew comprises Commander Kelly Haston, a research scientist specializing in stem cell projects; flight engineer Ross Brockwell, a structural engineer and public works administrator; medical officer Nathan Jones; and science officer Anca Selariu.

The crew members, with backgrounds in science and engineering, will participate in a simulated Mars mission, carrying out activities related to daily life, including eating, drinking, and exercise within the simulated environment. The 1,700-square-foot 3D-printed habitat, roughly the size of a three-to-four-bedroom house, will serve as NASA's longest analog mission to date, spanning 378 days. It will facilitate personal hygiene, healthcare tasks such as blood collection, physical exercise, food cultivation, and geological sample collection.

Although the habitat cannot replicate the gravity of Mars, virtual reality technology will be employed to simulate spacewalks, Mars excursions, and various tasks crew members may encounter on the Red Planet, such as dust removal from spacesuits and solar panels, or habitat repairs. Throughout their confinement, scientists will measure the crew's performance, cognition, and health, providing valuable insights into the challenges faced during prolonged space missions.

On the commencement of the mission, the crew members, dressed in black jumpsuits, entered the habitat and the door was sealed. Dr. Grace Douglas, head of the CHAPEA program, declared, "CHAPEA mission one is a go." The data collected during the mission will be analyzed and utilized by NASA's vehicle planners to enhance future mission designs.

The CHAPEA Mission 1 crew will spend the next year living in a simulated Mars environment, undertaking activities akin to those of astronauts on the actual planet. By adhering to resource limitations, including restricted food choices, time-delayed communications, mission-specific timelines, and other constraints, the crew will gain valuable insights into the physical and psychological impacts of extended isolation. Mission Control will be available around the clock, but communication with the Mars Dune Alpha habitat will take 22 minutes each way, replicating the communication delay with Mars. The crew will follow a spaceflight food system and maintain Earth-time, counting days as 24 hours.

In addition to their daily routines, the crew will engage in scientific investigations, habitat maintenance, and cultivation of fresh food crops as instructed by Mission Control. To evaluate their responses and adaptability, the crew may also encounter periodic unexpected challenges during the mission. These stressors are intentionally kept undisclosed to maintain an element of surprise. The focus of the CHAPEA program is to explore the impact of resource restrictions on crew health, with a particular emphasis on diet-related effects. The insights gained from this series of missions will establish a crucial foundation for future explorations and inform NASA's preparations for crewed missions to Mars.