Four small rooms, a gym and lots of red sand. NASA unveiled its new Mars simulation habitat on Tuesday, where volunteers will live for a year to test what life will be like on future missions to Earth’s neighbor.
The facility, created for three planned experiments, called Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog (CHAPEA), is located at the US space agency’s massive research base in Houston, Texas.
With this data, NASA will better understand “resource utilization” by astronauts on Mars, said Grace Douglas, principal investigator of the CHAPEA experiments.
„We can really start to understand how we’re supporting them with what we’re giving them, and that’s going to be very important information for making these critical resource decisions.”said during a press tour of the habitat.
Such a distant mission comes with “very strict mass limitations,” she added.
Life on the Mars “simulator”.
Volunteers will live inside a 1,700-square-foot dwelling, dubbed “Mars Dune Alpha,” which includes two bathrooms, a vertical lettuce farm, a medical room, a relaxation area, and several workstations.
An air hatch leads to an “outdoor” reconstruction of the Martian environment, although it is still inside the hangar.
Several pieces of equipment that astronauts would likely use are scattered across the red sand-covered floor, including a weather station, a brick-making machine and a small greenhouse.
There is also a treadmill on which the imaginary astronauts will walk suspended by straps to simulate the lower gravity of the red planet.
„We really can’t make them walk around in circles for six hours.”joked Suzanne Bell, head of NASA’s Behavioral Health and Performance Laboratory.
Four volunteers will use the treadmill to simulate long trips outside to collect samples, gather data or build infrastructure, she said.
Members of the first test team have not yet been named, but the agency said the selection “will follow NASA’s standard criteria for astronaut candidates,” with a strong emphasis on training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Researchers will regularly test the crew’s response to stressful situations, such as restricted water availability or equipment failure.
The habitat has another special feature: it was 3D printed
„This is one of the technologies NASA is looking at as a potential way to build habitats on other planetary or lunar surfacesDouglas stated.
NASA is in the early stages of preparing a mission to Mars, although the agency is mainly focused on the upcoming Artemis missions, which aim to return humans to the moon for the first time in half a century.
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