Canadian biologist Kelly Haston will be one of the four volunteers stepping into a Martian habitat in Houston, Texas that will be their home for the next 12 months at the end of June.
For NASA, which interviewed and tested the candidates carefully before selecting them, these long-duration experiments allow the evaluation of a crew’s behaviour in an isolated environment – before a real mission takes off.
The space agency has warned: participants will face hardware failures, water restrictions and other surprises. Their communications with the outside will suffer from the existing delay between Earth and Mars, i.e. up to twenty minutes (40 minutes round trip).
About Canadian biologist Kelly Haston
Haston, a registered member of the Mohawk Nation of the Six Nations of the Grand River in Canada, is a research scientist with experience building models of human disease.
She has spearheaded innovative stem cell-based projects deriving multiple cell types for work in infertility, liver disease, and neurodegeneration.
Haston earned a Bachelor of Arts in integrative biology and a Master of Arts in endocrinology from the University of California, Berkeley, and a doctorate in biomedical sciences from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, where she combined animal and cell-based approaches to discover biological defects associated with infertility.
Haston’s postdoctoral work at both Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and UCSF’s Gladstone Institutes focused on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
The first mission is set to commence in June when four crew members will enter a 1,700-square-foot (158 square meters) habitat and live there for an entire year to simulate a Mars surface mission.
Kelly Haston will leads the mission and joining her will be flight engineer Ross Brockwell (a structural engineer), medical officer Nathan Jones (an emergency medicine physician) and science officer Alyssa Shannon (an advanced practice nurse). Aerospace and defense engineer Trevor Clark and U.S. Navy microbiologist Anca Selariu will serve as backup crew members.
During the upcoming CHAPEA (Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog) mission, the four crewmembers will live in a 3D-printed habitat called Mars Dune Alpha, which is located at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
The habitat, designed by 3D printing construction company ICON, includes private crew quarters, a kitchen, living areas, work areas and two bathrooms.
There’s also a 1,200-square-foot (111 square meters) external environment complete with Mars murals and red sand. There, the crew will conduct simulated spacewalks accompanied by virtual reality.
The crew will have to don their suits to do spacewalks — “probably one of the things that I’m looking forward to the most,” says Haston.
While living in Mars Dune Alpha, the CHAPEA crew will participate in the same kinds of activities that astronauts on Mars would do, from cooking to exercise to cleaning, as well as maintenance work on the habitat, crop growth and scientific research.
“The simulation will allow us to collect cognitive and physical performance data to give us more insight into the potential impacts of long-duration missions to Mars on crew health and performance,” Grace Douglas, the CHAPEA principal investigator, said in a NASA statement. “Ultimately, this information will help NASA make informed decisions to design and plan for a successful human mission to Mars.”