To be able to travel further into space than ever before, we have to figure out how it would work. On a 715-day mission to an asteroid near Earth, for instance, would a crew be too exhausted after working over half the day? How would they duck out of the way of space debris?
And most importantly: Could they handle spending nearly two years together without breaking?
NASA’s newly selected crew will investigate those exact questions, but in an accelerated timeframe, according to a NASA post this week. For a whole month, four members will brave whatever the galaxy throws at them in a program called the Human Research Exploration Analog (HERA). Analogs are missions conducted in remote corners of the world that have harsh environments similar to space, and NASA has been running them for decades.
During the trial, they’ll go through the motions of takeoff, talking with mission control, and go on a virtual spacewalk of the landing site. But even though what they’re doing is the stuff of science-fiction dreams, the crew will be cut off from the world around them. That means little contact, and — anguish alert — no internet.
The living space is confined, not unlike the science equivalent of a tiny house. Communication with mission control is delayed up to 10 minutes each way. The HERA crew logs 16 hours a day with weekends off, and they eat, exercise, and blueprint their plans as an astronaut would. Oh, and water their plants and check on their brine shrimp. (May we suggest B.o.B. as a name in honor of the recent brouhaha?)
The simulation is designed to eke out what problems arise from sending humans on a long mission. That includes meticulously monitoring every slice of a person’s well-being, including mood and stress levels. And everything the HERA crew says will be caught and analyzed, too.
It’s not the first time the research hub has been used: Formerly known as the Deep Space Habitat, the three-story habitat emerged out of university competitions and was used for desert research in the arid lands of Arizona.
If you want to know more about what life in space is like, NASA gives us a peek at a day in the life of an astronaut.
And if you want to know what space exploration does to the human body, check out this infographic.