As part of the CHAPEA 1 mission, NASA locked 4 volunteers inside a Mars simulator for 378 days.
The four volunteers entered the ground-based, simulated Mars habitat at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas on June 25, 2023.
The volunteers of the first of the Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog (CHAPEA) are Kelly Haston, CHAPEA mission 1 commander, Ross Brockwell, The Flight Engineer of the mission, Nathan Jones, CHAPEA mission 1 medical officer, Anca Selariu, Mission’s science officer. They were selected through NASA’s 2021 call for applicants.
The CHAPEA mission will allow volunteers to be placed in simulated year-long stays on the Martian surface.
The crew will live in Mars Dune Alpha, an isolated habitat covering 1700 square feet. It is a 3D printed structure that will simulate a realistic Martian habitat. It includes private crew quarters, a kitchen, and dedicated areas for medical, recreation, fitness, work, and crop growth activities, as well as a technical work area and two bathrooms. The activities of the crew will consist of simulated spacewalks including virtual reality, communications, crop growth, meal preparation and consumption, exercise, hygiene activities, maintenance work, personal time, science work, and sleep. Physical and behavioral health and performance of the crew will be studied. The data collected will be beneficial for future NASA missions.
The habitat is said to be kept as close to Mars’ condition as possible to get most accurate data. This may include environmental stressors such as isolation, equipment failure and resource limitation among other things.
A total of three CHAPEA missions had been planned. The one started now is the analog mission 1. The analog mission 2 will be starting on 2025 and the analog mission 3 on 2026.
The first successful flyby of Mars was by NASA’s Mariner 4 in 1965. It returned 21 images. The first successful soft landing on Mars was achieved by Soviet Union’s Mars 3. It landed in 1971, but failed shortly thereafter. Its lander stopped transmitting data in less than 20 seconds.
Only robotic rovers and landers have been on Mars.
Funding is one of the main limiting factors for sending humans to Mars. In 2010, the cost was estimated to be roughly US$500 billion. The actual costs are likely to be even more.
Physical challenges of human mission to Mars include health threat from cosmic rays and ionization radiation, adverse health effects of prolonged weightlessness.