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Nasa volunteers begin a year-long mission to 3D-print Mars

Kelly Haston, commander of the Chapea Mars simulation mission.  Photo: Nasa

Four people are now in the first week of their mission inside a 3D-printed habitat that mimics the atmosphere of Mars.

The close separation mission is part of a Nasa experiment aimed at measuring the effects of long-duration missions on the human body and mind.

The test subjects were locked inside the habitat on June 25 as part of the space agency’s Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analogue study.

Analogue missions take place on earth and help simulate a space or planet-like environment.

As space agencies and companies look to build human settlements on the Moon and Mars, these experiments are important in understanding the challenges of long-duration missions.

The Chapea mission takes place at Nasa’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“The simulation will allow us to collect cognitive and physical performance data to give us more insight into the potential effects of long-duration Mars missions on crew health and performance,” said Grace Douglas, chief investigator of Chaapea.

“Ultimately, this information will help Nasa make informed decisions to design and plan for a successful human mission to Mars.”

Volunteers will simulate the challenges of a human mission to Mars, including resource limitations, equipment failure, communication delays and other environmental factors.

Who are the test subjects?

Kelly Haston, a research scientist who works on models of human disease, serves as mission commander.

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Kelly Haston, commander of the Chapea Mars simulation mission.  Photo: Nasa

The Canadian citizen has led stem cell-based projects in the areas of infertility, liver disease and neurodegeneration.

Ross Brockwell, an American structural engineer, is the flight engineer, American emergency physician Nathan Jones is the medical officer and Alyssa Shannon, an advanced practice nurse in California, will be a science officer.

What will they do in a year?

During the simulation, the crew will perform a wide variety of mission activities, including simulated spacewalks, robotic operations, habitat maintenance, personal hygiene, exercise and crop growing.

“To be as realistic on Mars as possible, the crew will also deal with environmental stressors such as resource limitations, isolation, and equipment failure,” Nasa said.

“The simulated traverses will be performed in pairs in the ‘sandbox’ part of the habitat, which is filled with red sand to simulate the Martian landscape.

“The sandbox contains equipment such as a treadmill for virtual reality walking to allow the crew to simulate longer traverses beyond the physical limits of the 1,200-square-foot (111-square-meter) sandbox .”

Why is Nasa doing this?

Analogue missions have been going on for several years, carried out by Nasa, the Russian space agency Roscosmos and private companies around the world.

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The longest analogue project to be carried out is the Mars-500 mission by Russia, the European Space Agency and China.

A crew of six lived inside a shelter for 520 days.

Last year, the UAE took part in such a mission for the first time, when Emirati engineer Saleh Al Ameri was placed in close isolation for eight months in a Moscow-based facility.

The UAE’s Saleh Al Ameri emerged from a Russian isolation pod after an eight-month space research mission

The UAE's Saleh Al Ameri emerged from a Russian isolation pod after an eight-month space research mission

In 2021, two space architects spent 60 days living in a compact shelter in Greenland to simulate the harsh conditions of the moon.

Danes Sebastian Aristotelis and Karl-Johan Sorensen were part of the Lunark mission, where they endured Arctic temperatures of minus 30°C and carried rifles for protection against polar bears.

The pair work with Saga Space Architects, a company that aims to make space livable for future travelers by approaching habitat design from a human perspective.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX is building Starship rockets to take humans to the Moon, Mars and beyond one day.

The billionaire hopes to make life multi-planetary in the future.

Nasa is trying to land humans on the lunar surface within this decade under its Artemis program.

Updated: June 30, 2023, 6:50 AM

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