NASA Volunteers To Spend A Year In A 3D Printed Mars Habitat Ahead Of Martian Mission

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NASA invited the media to take a gander at its Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog (CHAPEA) facility on Tuesday, which will house four volunteers for a year beginning this summer. The facility is designed to simulate what it may be like for the first inhabitants of Mars.

CHAPEA is a 1,700-square-foot 3D-printed habitat named "Mars Dune Alpha," located at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The first volunteer crew, who are not astronauts, will partake in a number of different types of mission activities, including simulated spacewalks, robotic operations, personal hygiene, exercise, and crop growth. NASA will use the data it collects to better understand humans' ability to survive and thrive on the surface of Mars.

"We can really start to understand how we're supporting them with what we're providing them, and that's going to be really important information to making those critical resource decisions," explained Grace Douglas, lead researcher on the CHAPEA experiments, while giving a press tour of the facility.

The "Mars Dune Alpha" is as "Mars-realistic" as possible, according to NASA. It consists of private crew quarters, a kitchen, dedicated areas for medical, recreation, fitness, work, and crop growth activities, along with a technical work area, and two bathrooms. There is even an airlock that leads to an "outdoor" reconstruction of the Martian surface.

Some of the equipment located throughout the habitat are a weather station, a brick-making machine, and a greenhouse. Suzanne Bell, head of NASA's Behavioral Health and Performance Laboratory, joked with the media about a treadmill that utilizes straps to simulate Mars' lesser gravity, saying, "We really can't have them just walking around in circles for six hours."

As of right now, the four volunteers have not been named. The space agency says that it "will follow standard NASA criteria for astronaut candidate applicants," which includes the applicants having a background in science, technology, engineering, and math.

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Douglas told the media that the 3D printing technology used to create CHAPEA is being looked at "to build [a] habitat on other planetary or lunar surfaces." NASA believes that using 3D printing to build Martian habitats can help eliminate the need to launch large quantities of building materials on multiple space flights, and in turn save a lot of money and time.

There are currently three CHAPEA missions planned: Analog mission 1 starting this summer, Analog mission 2 to start in 2025, and Analog mission 3 to begin in 2026.