Four strangers were picked to live and work together and have their lives studied. Not in the real world, but on a simulated one.
Amid a cheering send-off at NASA’s Johnson Space Center on Sunday, four explorers headed to Mars.
“Our best wishes go with you as we begin this mission of discovery,” said Grace Douglas, principal investigator for the (CHAPEA) mission.
The Red Planet environment is faithfully recreated inside a hanger at the Johnson Space Center (JSC).
For the next year, the four crewmembers will live inside a 1,700-square-foot habitat that was built by a giant 3D printer.
CHAPEA is a year-long study simulating what it might be like to live and work on Mars.
The crew will face simulated challenges like equipment failures, communication problems, and the psychological stress of isolation. They’ll be away from friends and family for an entire year.
Medical officer Nathan Jones, who works as an emergency doctor in Illinois, choked back tears as he bid farewell before entering the habitat.
“We couldn’t be here without your love and support,” he said. “To my wife and kids, I love you to the moon — sorry, Mars and back.”
The crew members are not astronauts, but were picked from applications sent in by the general public. They are research scientists, medical doctors, and engineers.
“It is an amazing group of dedicated individuals who feel very passionate about space exploration and science,” said mission commander Kelly Haston, a research scientist who studies human disease.
Ross Brockwell is a structural engineer in real life who is serving as the flight engineer on the CHAPEA mission. Anca Selaru, a microbiologist in the U.S. Navy, is the mission science officer.
“Fake Mars” will also allow the crew to put on spacesuits and head out of the airlock to a simulated Mars landscape, an area called the “sandbox.” They will have an opportunity to grow their own food, conduct science experiments, and remotely control a robot and a small helicopter.
“One year from now, when they come out to great success, we will be here waiting,” said JSC director Vanessa Wyche.
This mission is the first of three, as NASA looks forward to the day when humans finally return to the moon, and eventually the Red Planet.