On June 25, four NASA recruits set off for Mars — on Earth. They embarked on the first of three-year-long missions to prep Earthlings for life as extraterrestrials. But these missions are terrestrial.
This summer, the first crew of four volunteers entered a unique structure called Mars Dune Alpha. It’s located at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The crew will stay inside it for a year. Their mission: to live and work as if they were on the Red Planet.
Visits two and three should start in 2025 and 2026. Each mission is being designed to prep astronauts for an actual stay on the Red Planet. The volunteers’ experiences will help scientists, engineers, and astronauts start to foresee what an actual trip to Mars will entail.
Mars Dune Alpha was 3-D printed. At 158 sq. meters (1,700 sq. ft.), it’s about the size of a three-bedroom apartment. There are four small living quarters and two bathrooms. There also are dedicated workstations, a medical area, a lounge, and a galley. It would be too heavy to carry food from Earth, so astronauts going to Mars will have to produce their own. To prepare for that, the Mars Dune Alpha crew will grow its food on a vertical farm.
What will they face?
CHAPEA will investigate how our health and ability to carry out tasks “alters when you’re working as if you’re on Mars,” explains Kelly Haston. A member of the Mohawk Nation and the Six Nations of the Grand River in Canada, she’s commanding this first mission. With a PhD in biomedicine, she’s used stem cells to study liver disease, reproduction, and the nervous system.
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