Want to live like a Martian? New NASA mission puts out call for applicants


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For anyone who has ever dreamed of living on Mars, NASA is seeking potential “Martians” for a simulated mission to the red planet.

The space agency has put out a call for applicants to its second planned CHAPEA, or Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog, mission, which will begin in the spring of 2025.

For one year, a volunteer crew made up of four people will live and work inside Mars Dune Alpha at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The 3D-printed habitat, spanning 1,700 square feet, is designed to resemble the living conditions of a crew of astronauts that will land on the Martian surface in the future.

Understanding how a crew reacts to the challenges of a deep space mission is essential for planning how astronauts will explore the red planet.

Inside Mars Dune Alpha, participants will grow crops, maintain their habitat, exercise, carry out robotic operations and go on simulated spacewalks. And they will face real issues such as equipment failure, communication delays, environmental stressors and dealing with limited resources.

The application process is now open and will close on April 2, according to the agency.

NASA’s crew criteria

The CHAPEA program is looking for nonsmoking, healthy US citizens between the ages of 30 and 55 years old who are proficient in the English language.

“Applicants should have a strong desire for unique, rewarding adventures and interest in contributing to NASA’s work to prepare for the first human journey to Mars,” according to the agency.

When it comes to selecting the CHAPEA crew, the agency has specific criteria in mind that aligns with how they select astronauts.

The Mars simulated crew members need a master’s degree in a STEM field, such as engineering, mathematics, or biological, computer or physical science, or a related requirement like a medical degree, and must be able to pass the astronaut physical test. They also need two years of professional experience within their chosen field or at least 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time on a jet aircraft.

The selection process timeline could take up to 13 months, and finalists will need to undergo medical, psychological and psychiatric tests to make sure they are mentally and physically suited for such a long and isolating mission.

Inside the habitat, the CHAPEA 1 crew conducts "Marswalks" (left) and grows crops using a system with appropriate lighting, water and nutrients for growing plants indoors. - NASA

Inside the habitat, the CHAPEA 1 crew conducts “Marswalks” (left) and grows crops using a system with appropriate lighting, water and nutrients for growing plants indoors. – NASA

And be sure to read the fine print: Food allergies or certain medications could cause applicants to be disqualified. While being screened, candidates can find out how they will be compensated for their time if selected.

A series of Mars simulations

The first CHAPEA mission, which began on June 25, 2023, is set to conclude on July 6. The main goals of the first mission have been monitoring and assessing the health and performance of the crew as they live in a confined space while dealing with the anticipated challenges of life on Mars.

The crew includes research scientist Kelly Haston, structural engineer Ross Brockwell, emergency medicine physician Nathan Jones and microbiologist Anca Selariu.

So far during their time in isolation, the crew has harvested their first crops, including leafy greens, peppers and tomatoes, using an indoor home gardening system. The team has also gone on numerous simulated “Marswalks” in a 1,200-square-foot red sandbox designed to mimic what it might be like to go on excursions on the Martian surface. And the crew continues to carry out biological and physical experiments and investigations.

The CHAPEA Mission 1 crew, including Nathan Jones, Ross Brockwell, Kelly Haston, Anca Selariu (from left to right), is pictured on June 26, 2023, before entering the habitat. - Josh Valcarcel/NASA

The CHAPEA Mission 1 crew, including Nathan Jones, Ross Brockwell, Kelly Haston, Anca Selariu (from left to right), is pictured on June 26, 2023, before entering the habitat. – Josh Valcarcel/NASA

The lessons learned from the inaugural CHAPEA mission will help NASA fill knowledge gaps about how to make sure Martian crews are healthy and have adequate supplies and support while living millions of miles away from Earth. Three total CHAPEA missions are planned, and all have similar goals.

“The second mission will be pretty similar to the first mission with the same goals in order to gather additional data across participants,” said Anna Schneider, public affairs officer at Johnson Space Center.

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