NASA Is Recruiting Candidates for Year-Long Mars Simulation

Crew members will live in a 3-D printed habitat called Mars Dune Alpha in Houston, Texas

An image of a rendering of a habitat on the surface of plant Mars. The photo has a sepia tone and shows a habitat situated on a desert like surface.
The habitat 3D printed by the construction technology company ICON, and designed by the architecture firm, BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, includes separate rooms for each crew member, two bathrooms, a kitchen, areas for fitness and recreation, and a space to grow crops. ICON

Ever wondered what life on Mars would be like? Now is the time to apply. NASA is seeking applicants for a year-long mission designed to simulate life on the dusty Martian surface. The fully immersive experience will allow successful candidates to experience what it's like to be an astronaut living in a distant world—all from the comfort of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, reports Peter Dockrill for Science Alert.

The mission is the first of three yearlong simulations in NASA's Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog (CHAPEA) series and begins in the fall 2022, reports Aristos Georgiou for Newsweek. While it may seem like a dream, the missions are designed to simulate the hardships and challenges a space crew may face millions of miles away from Earth.

"The analog is critical for testing solutions to meet the complex needs of living on the Martian surface. Simulations on Earth will help us understand and counter the physical and mental challenges astronauts will face before they go," said Grace Douglas, lead scientist for NASA's Advanced Food Technology research effort at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, in a statement.

Each simulation will consist of four crew members who will live and work inside an isolated 1,700-square-foot habitat dubbed Mars Dune Alpha. The habitat was 3-D printed by the construction technology company ICON and designed by the architecture firm, BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group. The space includes separate rooms for each crew member, two bathrooms, a kitchen, areas for fitness and recreation, and a space to grow crops, Newsweek reports. Mars Dune Alpha will also house medical rooms and a technical work area as well.

"This is the highest-fidelity simulated habitat ever constructed by humans," said Jason Ballard, co-founder and CEO of ICON, in a statement. "Mars Dune Alpha is intended to serve a very specific purpose—to prepare humans to live on another planet. We wanted to develop the most faithful analog possible to aid in humanity's dream to expand into the stars. 3-D printing the habitat has further illustrated to us that construction-scale 3-D printing is an essential part of humanity's toolkit on Earth and to go to the Moon and Mars to stay."

Within the habitat, crew members will have to face challenges, such as relying on limited resources, experiencing communication delays, equipment failure, and isolation. The crew will experience other work as part of the mission, including simulated spacewalks, virtual reality experiments, and scientific research, per the CHAPEA web page.

NASA has previously ran other analog missions designed to simulate other worlds. In 1990, the government agency conducted its first terrestrial simulation in Arizona to train astronauts for space missions, Science Alert reports.

Those up for the challenge must be healthy individuals aged between 30 to 55 who must either be U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Successful candidates also must possess a master's degree in a related STEM field and two years of professional experience, or have at least 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time on a jet aircraft, reports Science Alert. Aside from meeting the criteria, candidates must also pass the NASA long-duration flight astronaut physical test.

Applications for the first CHAPEA mission are open now until September 17, 2021. Those interested in applying can find complete instructions on eligibility requirements and how to apply here. Two more CHAPEA missions are scheduled for 2024 and 2025.