A four-member crew is set to start their experimental virtual life on Phobos, one of the moons around Mars, Friday.
Dr. Lauren Cornell, Monique Garcia, Christopher Roberts and Madelyne Willis, the volunteers selected by NASA, will live and work for 45 days inside a unique, ground-based habitat at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, experiencing space-like conditions.
Designed to serve as an analog for isolation, confinement, and remote conditions in exploration scenarios, this small habitat is called the Human Exploration Research Analog, or HERA.
HERA will house crew members who will simulate the long trek to Mars’ moon Phobos. Similar to other HERA missions, once the habitat’s doors close, the crew will need to stay inside for 45 days until the mission ends on November 15.
The volunteers will remain trapped in a two-story, four-port cylindrical habitat unit, designed to replicate the living space on a long duration spaceship. The capsule has 636 sq. ft of living space, which means it will be four times smaller than a tennis court.
As the simulated journey takes crew members closer to Phobos, those inside will experience increasing delays in communicating with the outside world. When the simulation successfully brings the crew to Phobos, this delay will last up to five minutes each way. Such delays will force the crew and those coordinating their journey — to practice communicating in ways that minimize impacts to mission operations, and allow the crew sufficient autonomy to accomplish the mission.
The Phobos mission signals the start of HERA’s Campaign 6. Three additional missions will follow as part of the campaign, with the final one scheduled to begin on September 12, 2022.
NASA said its Human Research Program will perform a total of 15 studies throughout the missions, with seven returning and eight new investigations. The data collected as part of these missions will continue to help prepare humans for exploration missions to the Moon, trips to the planned lunar Gateway, and long-duration missions to
Phobos is the innermost and larger of the two natural satellites of Mars.
Dr. Lauren Cornell is a research scientist currently contributing to the U.S. Air Force’s research mission in San Antonio, Texas.
Monique Garcia works as a human factors engineer and systems administrator for The MITRE Corporation, tasked with developing a user interface for a telescope system that will be used in NASA’s Deep Space Network. She also assists with developing task automation systems on satellites for the U.S. Space Force.
The lone male member of the four-member crew, Chris Roberts works as a project engineer with NASA’s Cold Stowage team in support of the International Space Station program.
Madelyne Willis is a microbial ecologist from Atlanta, Georgia. She has extensive field experience, including multiple deployments to the Arctic and Antarctic.
NASA has selected two other volunteers as backups for the primary crew of HERA Campaign 6, Mission 1.
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