NASA Wants YOU! to Help Prepare Humankind for Mars

By: Valerie Stimac  | 

mars landscape
The Mars landscape looks bleak. A year of your time at the Johnson Space Center can prepare people to one day live on the red planet. Artur Debat/Getty Images

As NASA prepares for the next era in human space exploration, it's looking for a few good folks to help study the impact of long-term missions on Mars. The U.S. space agency announced last week that it was seeking applicants for the upcoming Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog (CHAPEA) missions that will take place at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Each of the year-long missions will have four crew members who work in an isolated module, meant to simulate an early Mars colony base.

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Simulated – but Very Real

For the CHAPEA mission, each four-member crew will spend their year in a 1,700-square-foot (158-square-meter) module which will be 3D printed by ICON. The crew will face simulations of the "normal" challenges of human space exploration resource limitations, equipment failure, communications issues and other environmental stressors.

Crew members may also be asked to go on spacewalks (or rather, simulated Mars walks), conduct scientific research, use VR and robotics to complete tasks and participate in regular Earth-to-Mars communications – with the expected roughly 20-minute delay between the two planets. And you thought those slight audio delays on video calls this past year were bad!

This is not the first earthly mission NASA has run to try and prepare humankind for Mars. Historically, NASA has been studying the human experience of isolation in simulated off-world missions to better understand how to select strong candidates and support them through the long-duration missions needed to explore Mars. These include the Hawai'i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) mission, which has sent five multi-member crews to the desolate slopes of Mauna Loa on the Big Island for anywhere between four and 12 months. Through these simulations, NASA has gained valuable data on the psychological and physical effects of isolation, close quarters and limited social connections. CHAPEA is the next step in this ongoing research effort.

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Do You Have What it Takes?

To be eligible for the CHAPEA missions, NASA has the following requirements: You must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, healthy, between 30 and 55 years old, proficient in English and "motivated." This last criteria is specifically called out several times in NASA's announcement, though it's not understood specifically how motivation may play into crew selection or the mission itself.

Additionally, candidates need to hold a master's degree in a STEM field such as engineering, mathematics or biological, physical or computer science with at least two years of professional STEM experience, or a minimum of one thousand hours piloting an aircraft. Candidates who have completed two years of work toward a doctoral program in STEM, or completed a medical degree or a test pilot program, will also be considered. Additionally, applicants who have completed military officer training or a Bachelor of Science in a STEM field with four years of professional experience may be considered.

If you meet the criteria, NASA is now accepting applications here. The deadline to apply is Sept. 17, 2021.

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