Red planet readiness: NASA to send crew into simulated Mars habitat for year

Sights may be set on Mars but it’s going to be a long, expensive trip. So NASA is planning to bring a bit of Mars to Earth in a simulation.

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CNN reported that not only will the trip to the red planet be a difficult one to make, but also staying there and surviving will be tough.

So to see if it can be done, NASA will kick off its CHAPEA simulation next month. CHAPEA stands for Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog.

Come June, the crew will be locked inside a Mars-like base in Texas where they’ll have to follow a pre-planned schedule that will simulate living on Mars. They will have activities, complete science projects and even have to deal with maintenance and equipment failures. And don’t think they’ll be able to just log onto GrubHub and order some Chick-fil-A when they get hungry. Nope. They’ll also have to eat like astronauts.

Communication with the crew “back on Earth” will also have a 22-minute delay, similar to the delay they would experience when talking between Mars and Earth. They will also have ambient sound piped into the habitat to block out external sounds from their more earthly surroundings.

All that happens as they undergo psychological and physiological testing to see the mental and physical effects of the more than yearlong mission on team members Kelly Haston, Ross Brockwell, Nathan Jones and Alyssa Shannon.

Trevor Clark and Anca Selariu are the backup members of the first crew.

The base was built by Bjarke Ingels Group and 3D-printer ICON inside the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

By 3D printing the space, NASA said it can “eliminate the need to launch large quantities of building materials on multiple flights, which is cost prohibitive.”

The printer will spew out lavacrete to construct the four private crew quarters, workstations, medical stations, lounge areas, galley and food growing areas, according to NASA.

“NASA has evaluated a tremendous number of options for off-world habitat construction – repurposed rockets and landers, inflatables, assembled buildings, etc.,” ICON CEO Jason Ballard said, according to CNN. “They’ve come to believe what we believe: that when you evaluate it from a financial, safety and flexibility standpoint, robotic construction using local materials is far and away the best option.”

Once the mission is finished next year, there will be two more following in 2025 and 2026, NASA said.

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