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Scientists re-emerge after a year in Mars simulation project

July 7, 2024

The two women and two men spent the last 378 days in Houston's Mars Dune Alpha habitat, designed to mimic Red Planet conditions. They spent the year conducting "Marswalks" and operating under "additional stressors."

NASA deputy director Kjell Lindgren (center) speaks as volunteer crew members (from left to right) Kelly Haston, Ross Brockwell, Nathan Jones and Anca Selariu exit Mars Dune Alpha on July 6, 2024.
As they left the habitat, the four volunteers were visibly emotionalImage: JOSE ROMERO/AFP

After a year, four scientists in the United States on Saturday ended an experiment that simulated life on Mars.

To loud applause, the four volunteers left NASA-built Mars Dune Alpha, where they had spent the past 378 days completely isolated from the outside world.

The 160-square-meter structure at the Johnson Space Center in Houston was designed to mimic conditions on the Red Planet. The habitat is a 3D-printed facility, complete with bedrooms, a gym, common areas, and a vertical farm for growing food.

The structure also features an outdoor area, separated by an airlock. The space is filled with red sand and is where the team donned suits to conduct their "Marswalks."

What did the scientists do?

Anca Selariu, Ross Brockwell, Nathan Jones and team leader Kelly Haston have spent the last year growing vegetables, conducting "Marswalks" and operating under what NASA calls "additional stressors."

These included communication delays with "Earth," including their families; isolation; and confinement.

As they left the habitat on Saturday, the four volunteers were visibly emotional.

"We can do these things together," Brockwell said. "We can use our senses of wonder and purpose, to achieve peace and prosperity and to unlock knowledge and joy for the benefit of everyone in every part of planet Earth," he added.

What space exploration missions await us in 2024?


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What is the goal of the mission?

The mission was the first in a series called Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog (CHAPEA). Its goal is to help NASA prepare to send humans back to the moon and, one day, to Mars.

Julie Kramer, NASA's director of engineering, said the project "gives us an opportunity to learn all these critical things about these complex systems, and it's going to make going to Mars and back a lot safer."

Additional CHAPEA missions are planned for 2025 and 2027, she said.

A year-long mission to simulate life on Mars took place in a habitat in Hawaii in 2015-2016. NASA participated but did not lead the mission.

As part of its Artemis program, the US plans to send humans back to the Moon to learn how to live there long-term. This will help prepare for a trip to Mars sometime in the late 2030s.

dh/rmt (AFP, dpa)