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NASA's simulated Mars trip ends after more than a year

Four volunteers have emerged from NASA's simulated Mars environment, having spent more than a year on a mission that never actually launched from Earth.

The volunteer team members spent more than 12 months inside NASA's first simulated Mars habitat at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, which was designed to help scientists and researchers get an idea of ​​what a real mission to the planet might be like, along with all of its expected challenges. The crew emerged from the artificial alien environment around 5 p.m. Saturday after 378 days.

Kelly Heston, Anca Celariu, Ross Brockwell and Nathan Jones Entered the 3D-printed housing on June 25, 2023, as the first crew of the space agency's Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog, or CHAPEA project. The group included a research scientist, a structural engineer, an emergency medicine physician and a US Navy microbiologist, respectively, who were selected from a pool of applicants to lead the project's first year-long mission. None of them are trained as astronauts.

As they stepped outside, mission commander Heston began the conversation with a simple “Hello.”

“It's just amazing to actually be able to say 'hello' to all of you,” he said.

Jones, the mission's medical officer and physician, said their 378 days in solitary confinement “passed quickly.”

The four lived and worked inside a space of 17,000 square feet to simulate a mission to the Red Planet, which is the fourth planet from the sun and has often been a topic of discussion among scientists and science-fiction fans about potential journeys that would take humans beyond our moon.

The first CHAPEA crew focused on establishing possible conditions for future Mars missions through simulated spacewalks, called “marswalks”, as well as growing and harvesting vegetables to supplement their food and maintain the habitats and their equipment.

They also worked on challenges that a real Mars crew would face, such as limited resources, isolation and a delay of up to 22 minutes in communications with their home planet on the other side of the habitat's walls, NASA said.

Simulation of exit from Mars by US NASA
In this image created from a video provided by NASA, Kelly Heston, a member of the first CHAPEA mission, speaks in front of other members, left to right, Ross Brockwell, Nathan Jones and Anca Celariu, on Saturday, July 6, 2024, at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.


NASA said two additional CHAPEA missions are planned and crews will continue to conduct simulated spacewalks and collect data on factors related to physical and behavioral health and performance.

Steve Koerner, deputy director of the Johnson Space Center, said most of the experiments on the first crew focused on nutrition and how it affects their performance. He said the work was “critical science as we prepare to send people to the Red Planet.”

“They're separated from their families, put on a carefully prescribed meal plan and closely monitored,” Koerner said.

He said, “Mars is our goal”, and described the project as an important step toward America's intention to become a leader in the global space exploration effort.

Stepping outside after astronaut and deputy director of flight operations Kjell Lindgren knocked on the habitat's door, the four volunteers expressed their gratitude to each other and to those waiting patiently outside, and shared what they had learned about a potential manned mission to Mars and life on Earth.

Brockwell, the crew's flight engineer, said the mission taught him the importance of living sustainably for the benefit of everyone on Earth.

“I am so grateful to have this incredible opportunity to live for a year in the spirit of planetary adventure toward an exciting future, and I am grateful for the chance to live out the idea that we should not use resources faster than they can be replenished and produce waste faster than they can be converted back into resources,” Brockwell said.

“If we don't follow these principles we cannot live, dream, create or explore for any significant period of time, but if we do we can achieve and sustain amazing and inspiring things, like the discovery of other worlds,” he said.

Science officer Anca Celariu said she had been asked several times why the focus was on Mars.

“Why go to Mars? Because it is possible,” he said. “Because space can unite us and bring out the best in us. Because it is a decisive step that 'Earthlings' will take to pave the way for the next centuries.”


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