Mars: Why were four scientists locked up for a year in a replica of the Red Planet?

Image source, a pot

Caption, Anka Celario, Ross Brockwell, Kelly Haston and Nathan Jones have been in custody for a year.

  • author, Nikolai Voronin
  • Role, BBC World News

Just half a century ago, flights to Mars were the stuff of science fiction.

Today, scientists are seriously considering what skills future colonists of the Red Planet will need, how they will survive the long journey there, and how they will be prepared to face the hostile and uninhabitable conditions.

It takes a special kind of person to survive in space. How will astronauts cope?

To answer these questions, on June 25 of last year, four American astronauts – Kelly Huston, Ross Brockwell, Nathan Jones, and Anca Cellario – made a “space flight.”

Not to Mars, of course, but to a 3D-printed replica of a Martian habitat. In simple terms: a structure designed to house astronauts and their equipment on Mars.

Image source, MARC FELIX/AFP/AFP via Getty Images

Caption, Shoes designed for walking on the Martian landscape.

The structure is located at a training base at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where scientists have tried to simulate as closely as possible the conditions in which future colonists might live.

The year-long “confinement” of the four chosen was the longest and most comprehensive spaceflight simulation ever conducted.

Over the past year, scientists have been monitoring the mission participants remotely, periodically assigning them tasks and continuously collecting data on their physical and mental health.

Image source, a pot

Caption, One of the mission’s goals is how people can stay together without their mental health deteriorating.

Year in 3D model

Image source, Reuters

Caption, Professor Bell is responsible for the scientific component of the project.

The four people who took part in the experiment last saw the sky more than a year ago.

For about 370 days, they lived in complete isolation as part of the CHAPEA (Crew Health Monitoring and Performance Exploration) program.

There was no shortage of candidates: more than 10,000 applications were submitted for the four vacant “Martian Volunteer” positions announced by NASA.

The overall goal of the mission is to study the physiological and psychological effects of long-duration space travel (the shortest trip to Mars would take nine months one way) and almost complete social isolation on humans.

Image source, a pot

Caption, The journey to Mars takes 9 months, and this is the only way.

The Mars module, which mimics the surface of the Red Planet, has an area of ​​about 160 square meters and was built using a 3D printer.

Scientists believe that 3D printing could be a possible way to build homes on Mars. Since the planet is millions of miles away, transporting building materials there is not practical.

Colonists will have to make do with materials already present on Mars: dust and sand.

It is hoped that this will form the basis of a material for 3D printing units.

“Houston we have a problem…”

Image source, MARC FELIX/AFP/AFP via Getty Images

Caption, This is what the interior of the Mars module looks like.

After all, Mars has an unbreathable atmosphere, microgravity and strong radiation.

But CHAPEA is doing everything it can to prepare future colonists for the variety of challenges the crew will inevitably face during a real mission to Mars.

Throughout the year, participants ate exclusively foods that could survive a long spaceflight (i.e. canned foods) and foods they grew themselves in a specially designed “Martian greenhouse.”

One of the major problems a real-life crew might face (and which was replicated in this experiment) is the significant delay in communications due to the distance between Mars and Earth.

If humans on Mars wanted to communicate with mission control, it would take 22 minutes for any signal from Earth to reach the Martian surface.

Image source, a pot

Caption, The crew underwent the same physical and psychological tests as professional astronauts.

It takes the same time to send back, i.e. it will take Approximately 45 minutes to receive an answer to the question.

This means that if difficulties arise, the crew cannot rely on help from Earth and must solve the problem independently.

The organizers designed the experience to include unexpected difficulties and unpleasant situations, from intermittent voice communications to sudden failures of small equipment.

According to Susan Bell, this is necessary to check how crew members react to stress under conditions of complete isolation.

Kelly Haston, who became the mission’s leader, is a trained physician specializing in developing stem cell therapies for diseases.

Brockwell is a design engineer, Jones is a military doctor who served in the ambulance service, and Sellario is a microbiologist with experience in the U.S. Navy.

To ensure the crew was suitable for the program, they had to undergo the same physical and psychological tests as professional astronauts.

What critics say

Proponents of human missions to Mars believe that data obtained from CHAPEA will help develop new technologies and methods for training astronauts, and will help make long-term space travel safe and efficient.

However, many critics consider this approach as Very optimistic. They question the need for manned flights to Mars, considering them too risky and expensive.

Ultimately, the vast majority of tasks that will be assigned to future colonists can also be performed by robots, at much lower cost and without any risk to human life.

This risk, to put it mildly, is high. As Lev Zeleny, Scientific Director of the Space Research Institute and Vice President of the Russian Academy of Sciences, points out, the CHAPEA program does not answer the question of how to safely transport people to Mars.

Outside Earth’s magnetic field, strong radiation would put astronauts traveling to Mars at risk.

Zeleny claims that technical solutions to protect astronauts from harmful radiation have not yet been invented, and therefore he is skeptical about “Martian training.”

“Let them exercise… brush their teeth and exercise… anyway, it won’t hurt them,” he says.

Remember that you can receive notifications in our app. Download the latest version and activate it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *