On June 25, 2023, four Americans began their 378-day stay on a simulated version of Mars at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The mission, dubbed CHAPEA, or Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog, is the first of three experiments planned by NASA. They are designed to test the mental and social challenges astronauts will face when they get to Mars.
The four volunteers were selected from a pool of over 4,000 applicants. They will spend the year inside an isolated 1,700 square foot (158 sq. meter) 3D-printed habitat. It includes private crew quarters, a kitchen, and two bathrooms. The structure also has dedicated work, recreation, and fitness areas.
Similar to a real mission, each participant has a specific job. Kelly Haston is the mission commander, while Ross Brockwell is the flight engineer. Nathan Jones will act as the medical officer, and Anca Selariu will be the science officer.
The volunteers will perform various tasks during their yearlong mission. They include virtual reality spacewalks, science experiments, and vegetable gardening. The participants will also be subjected to unexpected challenges like equipment failure.
The team's ability to work together will enable NASA scientists to determine if the isolated astronauts on Mars can handle the day-to-day challenges they are likely to face. To ensure their physical and mental well-being, the crew members will be constantly monitored with the help of cameras and body movement trackers.
"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," said CHAPEA's principal investigator, Grace Douglas. "Ultimately, this information will help NASA make informed decisions to design and plan for a successful human mission to Mars."
Scientists will never be able to eliminate all the risks associated with isolation and crew members living in close quarters for long periods of time. However, experiments like these will help make the long, difficult journey to Mars as conflict-free as possible.
Resources: NASA.gov, People.com