Exploring an Asteroid Without Leaving Earth

This 45 day mission – which begins Feb. 1, 2018 – will help our researchers learn how isolation and close quarters affect individual and group behavior. This study at our Johnson Space Center prepares us for long duration space missions, like a trip to an asteroid or even to Mars.

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The Human Research Exploration Analog (HERA) that the crew members will be living in is one compact, science-making house. But unlike in a normal house, these inhabitants won’t go outside for 45 days. Their communication with the rest of planet Earth will also be very limited, and they won’t have any access to internet. So no checking social media, kids!

The only people they will talk with regularly are mission control and each other.

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The HERA XVI crew is made up of 2 men and 2 women, selected from the Johnson Space Center Test Subject Screening (TSS) pool. The crew member selection process is based on a number of criteria, including criteria similar to what is used for astronaut selection. The four would-be astronauts are:

  • Kent Kalogera
  • Jennifer Yen
  • Erin Hayward
  • Gregory Sachs

What will they be doing?

The crew are going on a simulated journey to an asteroid, a 715-day journey that we compress into 45 days. They will fly their simulated exploration vehicle around the asteroid once they arrive, conducting several site surveys before 2 of the crew members will participate in a series of virtual reality spacewalks.

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They will also be participating in a suite of research investigations and will also engage in a wide range of operational and science activities, such as growing and analyzing plants and brine shrimp, maintaining and “operating” an important life support system, exercising on a stationary bicycle or using free weights, and sharpening their skills with a robotic arm simulation. 

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During the whole mission, they will consume food produced by the Johnson Space Center Food Lab – the same food that the astronauts enjoy on the International Space Station – which means that it needs to be rehydrated or warmed in a warming oven.

This simulation means that even when communicating with mission control, there will be a delay on all communications ranging from 1 to 5 minutes each way.

A few other details:

  • The crew follows a timeline that is similar to one used for the space station crew.
  • They work 16 hours a day, Monday through Friday. This includes time for daily planning, conferences, meals and exercise.
  • Mission: February 1, 2018 – March 19, 2018
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But beware! While we do all we can to avoid crises during missions, crews need to be able to respond in the event of an emergency. The HERA crew will conduct a couple of emergency scenario simulations, including one that will require them to respond to a decrease in cabin pressure, potentially finding and repairing a leak in their spacecraft.

Throughout the mission, researchers will gather information about living in confinement, teamwork, team cohesion, mood, performance and overall well-being. The crew members will be tracked by numerous devices that each capture different types of data.

Learn more about the HERA mission HERE

Explore the HERA habitat via 360-degree videos HERE.

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