Developing the technology to send humans to Mars is a major undertaking, but a new generation of crewed spacecraft and in-situ manufacturing technologies won’t do us any good if the humans we send prove too fragile. We need to figure out how to keep people safe and productive on Mars. So, NASA is gearing up for a series of year-long simulated Mars missions, and you can apply to participate if you meet the stringent selection criteria. If chosen, you get to spend a year locked inside a simulated Mars habitat with three other people.
The program is known as CHAPEA (Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog), and it will take place at Johnson Space Center in Texas. However, participants in the study will work and live as if they were on the surface of Mars rather than in the southern US. CHAPEA will utilize a closed habitat called Mars Dune Alpha, measuring about 1,700 square feet — that’s the size of a small-ish house in the US.
The goal is to see how people cope with the conditions of a Mars surface mission, so NASA will go to great pains to make it realistic. No one will be able to enter or leave the habitat after the year-long mission commences in fall 2022. NASA will also apply other stressors like resource limitations, equipment failures, and Mars-like communication delays. Participants will be tasked with performing scientific research and using virtual reality to complete simulated spacewalks and operate robotic controls. The crew will also have to eat only the food available to astronauts for the entire year.
NASA is looking for volunteers in the US who have a scientific background at the master’s degree level like engineering, mathematics, biology, physics, or computer science. The agency will also consider experience piloting aircraft as an additional qualification. If you think you’ve got what it takes, and are between 30 and 55 years old, you can go and apply on the NASA website. However, NASA stresses that it cannot consider anyone who has certain medical conditions. For example, the CHAPEA missions cannot make allowances for food allergies or those who need dietary supplements.
Even if all that sounds good, the agency will conduct medical and psychological screening to ensure candidates are suitable for the program. And NASA will probably have plenty of applicants from which to choose the final four. If you want to be considered, you’ve got until September 17, 2021 to submit an application.
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