Red Planet Reality: NASA Offers Rare Opportunity to Live in Mars Simulation for a Year, Igniting Dreams of Space Exploration

NASA can’t send anyone to Mars yet, but it’s seeking four people to pretend it did.

On Friday, NASA put out a rare call for applicants to spend one year in a simulated Mars habitat — and it’s willing to pay. The agency is looking for healthy adults with science degrees or military or piloting experience.

The Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog (CHAPEA) is running a series of one-year “missions” where volunteers who can act as astronauts would in space — NASA calls them analog astronauts — live inside a 3D printed habitat in Houston, Texas.

The 1,700-square-foot space, called the Mars Dune Alpha, mimics the habitats NASA may one day build on Mars to shelter astronauts.

The program’s first four-person crew has been living in the structure since last July. NASA’s reports on their progress hint at what the job is like: growing vegetables, simulating “Marswalks” in a sandbox, overseeing science experiments like those done on the International Space Station, and following a strict exercise regimen.

Now NASA is seeking applicants for its second CHAPEA mission, to start in spring 2025.

What NASA wants in a simulation Mars astronaut

NASA says it’s looking for “healthy, motivated US citizens or permanent residents” aged 30 to 55, who are proficient in English and do not smoke.

Like space-faring astronauts, NASA wants its simulation astronauts to have a master’s degree in a STEM field, with either two years of experience in that field or 1,000 hours of jet piloting.

“Applicants should have a strong desire for unique, rewarding adventures and interest in contributing to NASA’s work to prepare for the first human journey to Mars,” the agency wrote in a statement.

Applicants must also pass a criminal background check, psychiatric screening, and a medical evaluation to be eligible. After all, they’re signing up for a year of extreme isolation in close quarters with three other people and a highly regimented schedule.

The application offers further hints at the nature of the job, asking questions like: “Are you willing to consume processed, shelf-stable spaceflight foods for a year with no input into the menu?” and “Are you willing to go for extended periods of time (up to two weeks) with no or very limited contact with family and friends?”

It also describes monthly blood, urine, stool, and saliva tests, restricted access to social media, and 20-minute delays in communications with anyone outside the habitat.

Food allergies, dietary restrictions, and gastrointestinal disorders are disqualifiers because CHAPEA can’t accommodate them, according to NASA. Certain medications like blood thinners and sleeping aids are also disqualifiers.

A NASA spokesperson told Business Insider via email that pay for CHAPEA participants is “consistent with compensation for people participating in other analog missions,” but did not provide further details.

Sia

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