Kelly Haston, a Canadian biologist, did not have Mars as a childhood fantasy, but she will spend a year preparing to live there shortly. “We’ll just pretend we’re there,” the 52-year-old woman told AFP, describing her participation in an exercise simulating an extended stay on Mars.
At the end of June, she will be one of four volunteers moving into a Martian habitat in Houston, Texas, serving as their residence for the following year.
“Sometimes it still seems a little unreal to me,” she chuckles.
These long-term experiments allow NASA, which meticulously selected the participants, to evaluate the behavior of a crew in an isolated and confined environment in preparation for a future mission.
According to Haston, the space agency has warned that participants will encounter equipment failures, water limitations, and “surprises,” according to Haston.
Depending on the relative positions of the planets, their communications with the outside world will be subject to delays of up to 20 minutes in one direction and 40 minutes in both directions.
The research scientist, whose status as a permanent resident of the United States made her eligible for the program, exclaimed, “I’m very excited about this, but I’m also realistic about the difficulty of it.”
The habitat, named Mars Dune Alpha, is a 1,700-square-foot (160-square-meter) 3D-printed structure that includes bedrooms, a gym, common areas, and a vertical farm to produce food.
Haston, who visited the venue last year before her participation was confirmed, remarked, “The interior is actually surprisingly spacious.”
“We also have an outdoor area where we simulate spacewalks and Mars walks.”
This area, separated by an airlock, is filled with red sand but is still enclosed and not exposed to the atmosphere.
The personnel will be required to don spacesuits for “spacewalks” — “probably one of the things I’m most looking forward to,” says Mohawk Nation citizen Haston.
Even though they may be simulating a critical exploratory mission for humanity, the housemates’ ability to collaborate on mundane tasks such as tidying and cooking will be crucial.
Before accessing the habitat, a month of training in Houston is scheduled.
In an injury or medical emergency, a teammate could exit the field.
However, a series of procedures have been drafted for situations that can be handled by the personnel themselves, including how to inform them of an outside family emergency.
The most significant concern for the Canadian is how she will manage to be away from her family. She can only communicate regularly via correspondence and occasionally via videos but never live.
This is the first of three missions NASA has planned under CHAPEA (Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog).
In 2015-2016, a one-year mission simulating life on Mars was conducted in a habitat in Hawaii; however, NASA was not in charge of the task.
In the late 2030s, the United States intends to send humans back to the Moon as part of its Artemis program to learn how to live there for an extended period in preparation for a trip to Mars.