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First Mars Analog Mission Commences: Crew Begin Simulated Martian Experience

The simulated martian environment

Crew members for the inaugural CHAPEA Mission 1 entered the "Mars Dune Alpha" habitat on June 25. The crew, consisting of Kelly Haston, Ross Brockwell, Nathan Jones, and Anca Selariu, was carefully selected based on criteria such as STEM backgrounds, professional experience, and relevant training. The 1,700-square-foot habitat was constructed using 3D printing technology and will serve as their living and operating space for the entire year.

Commander Haston, who is a human disease research scientist, leads the mission. Brockwell serves as the structural engineer and flight engineer, Jones acts as the medical officer with emergency medicine expertise, and Selariu is a microbiologist in the United States Navy.

To simulate Mars-like conditions, the crew will remain inside the habitat, with occasional walks in an enclosed Mars simulation area. The mission aims to replicate the challenges faced by future Mars explorers, including limited resources, technology failures, communication delays, and environmental stresses. The crew will also engage in activities like simulated spacewalks, robotic operations, and habitat maintenance.

A view through the airlock, which connects the CHAPEA habitat to the sandbox area, where crew members will conduct simulated spacewalks (Credit: NASA)

The habitat features various rooms for different purposes, including private quarters, a kitchen, and dedicated areas for medical research, recreation, exercise, work, and crop development. It also includes a technical workspace and restrooms.

During the mission, the crew will follow Earth time instead of Mars days (Sols) and will not require specialized space toilets due to the absence of Martian gravity within the habitat. Communication with mission control will have a 22-minute delay, replicating the time it takes for a message to travel from Mars to Earth.

The crew will depend on freeze-dried, thermostabilized, and shelf-stable food throughout the mission. Mission scientists will remotely monitor and study the participants, collecting data on cognitive and physical performance to gain insights into the effects of long-duration Mars missions on crew health and performance.

The CHAPEA Mission 1 will provide valuable information for NASA's future manned missions to Mars. The mission is set to conclude on July 7, 2024, with plans for a second mission in 2025.

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