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NASA seeks volunteers for Mars simulation

Computer-generated image of Mars Dune Alpha. NASA hopes to start a year-long Mars simulation at Johnson Space Center late next year. Credit: ICON

Computer-generated image of Mars Dune Alpha. NASA hopes to start a year-long Mars simulation at Johnson Space Center late next year. Credit: ICON

NASA is seeking a crew of four volunteers for a year-long Mars simulation starting in the fall of 2022, one of several year-long simulations of life on the Red Planet organized by the agency’s Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog (CHAPEA).

Each CHAPEA mission involves four crew members living in a 1,700-square-foot habitat known as Mars Dune Alpha, located at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Texas, complete with simulated spacewalks, monitoring of participants’ physical and mental health, crop growing, and technical work.

The 3D-printer-created habitat that will house the “astronauts” will have a kitchen, private quarters for each crew member, two bathrooms, a fitness area, a section for technical work, and an area for growing crops.

Created by the company ICON, a company that focuses on advanced construction technologies, the habitat will present its crew with the real challenges astronauts on Mars would face, including environmental stressors, limited resources, a spaceflight diet, equipment malfunctions, and use of both robotic controls and virtual reality.

U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are non-smokers between the ages of 30 and 55 are eligible for the simulation. Fluency in English is required for effective communication between crew members and mission control, which will operate with the same communication delay that would occur on a real Mars mission.

To qualify, candidates must have a master’s degree in a STEM field, such as biology, computer science, engineering, mathematics, or physics from an accredited university or institute. They also must have either 1,000 hours of experience as an aircraft pilot or a minimum of two years professional experience in a STEM field.

People with a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field and/or those who have completed military officer training, and also have four years of work experience in a STEM field are also eligible to apply, as are those who have medical degrees, two years of work toward a STEM doctorate, or who have completed a test pilot program.

Like real astronaut candidates, applicants must a long duration flight astronaut physical.

“The analog is critical for testing solutions to meet the complex needs of living on the Martian surface. Simulations on Earth will help us understand and counter the physical and mental challenges astronauts will face before they go,” said Grace Douglass, who serves as lead scientist for NASA’s Advanced Food Technology research at JSC.

Applicants must apply here between Aug. 6 and Sept. 17, 2021. Those selected will be compensated for the project.

Candidates chosen as finalists will undergo the same medical, psychiatric, and psychological screenings actual astronauts do as part of the selection process. They also must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Food allergies, motion sickness, and gastrointestinal disorders disqualify applicants, as do a list of medications including blood thinners, blood pressure medication, allergy medication, insulin for Type 1 diabetes, sleep medication, ADD/ADHD medication, and medications for anxiety and depression.

The selection process will take approximately 13 months. Those not selected will remain in consideration for the next two simulations, which will begin in 2024 and 2025.

Video courtesy of ICON


Laurel Kornfeld is an amateur astronomer and freelance writer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science from Swinburne University’s Astronomy Online program. Her writings have been published online in The Atlantic, Astronomy magazine’s guest blog section, the UK Space Conference, the 2009 IAU General Assembly newspaper, The Space Reporter, and newsletters of various astronomy clubs. She is a member of the Cranford, NJ-based Amateur Astronomers, Inc. Especially interested in the outer solar system, Laurel gave a brief presentation at the 2008 Great Planet Debate held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.

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