NASA crew emerges from simulated Mars habitat after a year

The crew of a NASA mission to Mars left the spacecraft after a year-long journey, never leaving Earth.

The four volunteer crew members spent more than 12 months in NASA’s first simulated Mars environment at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. They left the artificial alien environment around 5 p.m. Saturday.

Kelly Haston, Anca Selariu, Ross Brockwell and Nathan Jones entered the 3D-printed habitat on June 25, 2023 as the space agency’s first crew Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog to project.

Haston, the mission commander, began with a simple, “Hello.”

“It’s just so wonderful to be able to say hello to all of you,” she said.

Jones, a doctor and medical officer at the mission, said their 378 days in confinement “went by quickly.”

The foursome lived and worked in a 1579-square-meter space to simulate a mission to the Red Planet, the fourth from the sun and a hot topic among scientists and science fiction fans alike, about a possible journey that would take humans beyond our moon.

The first CHAPEA crew focused on creating possible conditions for future Mars operations through simulated spacewalks, also known as “Marswalks,” and on growing and harvesting vegetables to replenish their supplies and maintaining the habitat and their equipment.

They also addressed the challenges a real Mars crew would face, including limited resources, isolation and communication delays of up to 22 minutes with their home planet on the other side of the habitat’s walls, NASA said.

Two more CHAPEA missions are planned, and crews will continue to conduct simulated spacewalks and collect data on factors related to physical and behavioral health and performance, NASA said.

Steve Koerner, deputy director of the Johnson Space Center, said most of the first crew’s experiments focused on nutrition and how it affected their performance. The work was “critical science as we prepare to send humans to the Red Planet,” he said.

“They are separated from their families, given a carefully prescribed meal plan and are observed extensively,” Koerner said.

“Mars is our goal,” he said, calling the project an important step in the U.S. bid to become a leader in global space exploration.

When Kjell Lindgren, astronaut and deputy director of flight operations, knocked on the habitat door, the four volunteers emerged. They spoke of the gratitude they felt for each other and for those who had waited patiently outside. They also talked about the lessons they had learned about a possible manned mission to Mars and life on Earth.

Brockwell, the crew’s flight engineer, said the mission made him realize the importance of sustainable living for everyone on Earth.

“I am so grateful for this incredible opportunity to live a year-long planetary adventure toward an exciting future, and I am grateful for the chance to live the idea that we should not use resources faster than they can be replenished, and that we should not produce waste faster than we can process it back into resources,” said Brockwell.

“We cannot live, dream, create or explore in any significant time frame if we do not adhere to these principles, but if we do, we can achieve and sustain amazing and inspiring things, like exploring other worlds,” he said.

Research scientist Anca Selariu said she has often been asked why people are so fixated on Mars.

“Why go to Mars? Because it’s possible,” she said. “Because space can unite us and bring out the best in us. Because it’s a defining step that ‘Earthlings’ will take to light the way to the next centuries.”

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