CHAPEA: Going to Mars without leaving Earth
On June 25, 2023, four volunteers started their journey to Mars. Well, not exactly.
Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog, or CHAPEA, is a series of analog missions that simulate year-long stays on Mars in a fully 3D printed habitat called Mars Dune Alpha, situated at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
The design of the 1,700 square-foot habitat was carefully planned to provide areas for living and working for four crewmembers. It contains individual private quarters, a kitchen, a gym, a recreation area, a workspace, a greenhouse for crop growth activities, an area to run experiments and two bathrooms.
All of these functional spaces needed to be contained in an area about the size of a single-family home.
ICON, a company at the forefront of developing advanced construction technologies utilizing 3D printing robotics, software and cutting-edge materials, was responsible for the construction of Mars Dune Alpha.
In the construction process, ICON used a material similar to what might be utilized on an actual 3D printed Mars habitat — a regolith-based mixture.
Additive manufacturing, specifically 3D printing, showcases the promising technique of utilizing Martian resources on-site known as in-situ resource utilization. This approach eliminates the necessity of launching large quantities of building materials across multiple flights, which is prohibitively expensive.
In order to maximize the resemblance to an actual Martian habitat environment, NASA incorporated various environmental stressors into the analog mission. These include resource limitations, isolation, equipment failure and demanding workloads.
The significance of maintaining a busy, productive and purposeful crew for the duration of one year cannot be underestimated.
During the analog mission, the crew will engage in a range of essential activities, including simulated spacewalks utilizing virtual reality, communications, crop growth, meal preparation and consumption, exercise routines, hygiene practices, maintenance tasks, personal time, scientific work and rest periods.
Who are these four crewmembers willing to endure a year of isolation away from their families, all in the pursuit of scientific advancement?
Kelly Haston, the crew commander, brings her expertise as a research scientist specializing in constructing models of human disease. With impressive credentials in innovative stem cell-based projects, she has successfully derived various cell types for use in the fields of infertility, liver disease and neurodegeneration.
Ross Brockwell, the flight engineer, possesses a background in structural engineering and serves as a public works administrator. His professional endeavors revolve around infrastructure development, building design, operations and organizational leadership.
Nathan Jones, the medical officer, is a board-certified emergency medicine physician. His specialization lies in prehospital and austere medicine. He currently holds positions as an emergency medicine physician, emergency medical director and tactical medical physician at Springfield Memorial Hospital in Illinois.
Anca Selariu, the science officer, is a microbiologist serving in the U.S. Navy. Her extensive expertise encompasses areas such as viral vaccine discovery and manufacturing, prion transmission, gene therapy development and project management in the field of infectious disease research.
The goal of this mission is to evaluate human health and performance within the context of Mars-related resource limitations, isolation and confinement. By conducting this simulation, NASA aims to gather cognitive and physical performance data to provide scientists with deeper insights into the potential effects of long-duration missions to Mars on the health and performance of the crew.
NASA plans to select two more crews in 2025 and 2026 to live in Mars Dune Alpha for one-year missions.
These analog missions aim to gather crucial insights and data regarding NASA’s space food system, as well as the physical and behavioral health and performance outcomes relevant to future space missions.
The research conducted in CHAPEA is expected to inform NASA on vital topics such as risk and resource allocation, which will ensure optimized crew health and performance for future missions to Mars.
Video courtesy of NASA Johnson Space Center
A space journalist, researcher and engineer, Anastasia has participated in many experiments and projects helping human exploration of space. A PhD candidate in Space Resources at Colorado School of Mines, crew member of the international space projects "Mars-160" and "SIRIUS-19", and the first female test subject in the experiment "Dry Immersion", Anastasia is also co-author of the book "I wish you a good flight!", which was written under the guidance of cosmonaut Yuriy Baturin.