NASA will not deploy men to Mars for at least a decade, but the agency says demand in a year’s stint in a simulated home base on the Red Planet is high.
The space agency’s simulation will begin in the fall of 2022 inside a 3D-printed habitat at Houston’s Johnson Space Center. The deadline for applications is September 17.
And being chosen for this simulation appears to be as difficult as making the cut for a seven-month voyage to Mars.
To be picked as one of four men and women who will live in NASA’s simulated Mars habitat, candidates must jump through a complex series of hoops, much like astronauts do.
Participants must be 30 to 55 years old and healthy. They also must have at least a master’s degree in science or engineering, or similar professional or military experience in some cases. Physicians would fit the bill, too.
The application process begins on NASA’s website, and includes a strong warning.
“Risks of participating … may include loss of privacy or confidentiality, minor discomforts … and physical injury or a highly unlikely chance of death,” NASA notes its description of the application process.
Selection may take up to 18 months, with trips to Johnson Space Center for tests and in-person interviews.
Such simulations are viewed widely as vital to any attempt to explore Mars, said Robert Zubrin, founder of the non-profit space exploration advocacy group, The Mars Society.
“Any competent military does field exercises, in which the troops go out and learn how to use the tanks and helicopters and coordinate activities when nobody is trying to kill them,” Zubrin said. “It follows that any serious space agency these days must do simulations for a trip to Mars.”
But a year in isolation could result in dramatic shifts in the human psyche, Lisa Stojanovski, a science communicator and participant in a 2018 Mars simulation in Hawaii, told UPI.
“Between eight months and 12 months you kind of see the long-term effects,” Stojanovski said. “Something in the human mind kind of clicks over I think — becomes ingrained.”
Those who have the required background are then ushered through a series of online questions to determine if they will move further in the process. Some of those questions are:
“Are you willing to go for extended periods (up to one year) with restricted social media contact?”
“Are you willing to perform daily or weekly cognitively and physically demanding tasks?”
“Are you willing to consume processed and prepackaged spaceflight foods for a year with no input into the menu?”
Are you willing to follow daily prescribed exercise protocols? Are you willing to follow daily scientific protocols?
After that, candidates will undergo medical evaluations, psychological testing and psychiatric screening to determine fitness for long-term isolation, regular exercise and difficult tasks such as simulated spacesuit walks or fixing failed equipment.
Participants also will be required to grow greens indoors to supplement stored food, according to NASA.
While isolation is one issue Mars travelers may endure, the bigger problem is the work required, Zubrin said. He said he knows this because The Mars Society runs three-month Mars simulations on a remote island in Canada and at high elevations in Utah.
“For any trip to Mars, you will have a group of highly trained, highly motivated people. They may be isolated … but they will be excited and busy, so I think NASA’s focus on [isolation] is a little off base,” Zubrin said.