NASA crew emerge from capsule after year-long simulation of Mars journey

A NASA crew on Mars has emerged from their capsule after a year-long mission that never left Earth.

The four volunteers spent more than 12 months inside the first simulated Mars environment at Johnson Space Center in Houston, and left the artificial alien environment at around 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Kelly Haston, Anca Selariu, Ross Brockwell and Nathan Jones entered a 3D-printed habitat on June 25, 2023, as the first crew for the Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analogue (CHAPEA) project.

Haston, the mission commander, began with a simple “hello.”

“It’s wonderful to be able to say ‘hello’ to all of you,” he added.

Jones, a doctor and medical officer for the mission, said the 378 days in confinement “went by quickly.”

The four lived and worked inside the 17,000-square-foot (1,579-square-meter) space to simulate a mission to the Red Planet, the fourth from the sun and a frequent subject of debate among scientists and science fiction fans alike about a possible journey that would take humans beyond our Moon.

The mission’s prime crew focused on establishing potential conditions for future operations on Mars with simulated spacewalks, as well as growing and harvesting plants to supplement their provisions and maintain their habitat and equipment.

They also worked through challenges that a real crew would face on Mars, such as limited resources, isolation and communication delays of up to 22 minutes from their home planet to the other side of the habitat walls, NASA said.

Two additional missions are planned, and teams will continue to conduct simulated spacewalks and collect data on factors related to physical and behavioral health and performance, NASA said.

Steve Koerner, deputy director of the Johnson Space Center, said most of the first crew’s experiments focused on nutrition and how it affected their performance. The work was “critical science as we prepare to send people to the Red Planet,” he said.

“They have been separated from their families, followed a carefully prepared meal plan and subjected to a lot of observation,” Koerner said.

“Mars is our goal,” he added. The project, he said, is an important step in the United States’ efforts to lead global exploration efforts.

The four volunteers, who emerged after Kjell Lindgren, astronaut and deputy director of flight operations, knocked on the habitat door, spoke of gratitude toward their companions and those who waited patiently outside, as well as lessons learned about a possible manned mission to Mars and life on Earth.

Brockwell, the team’s flight engineer, said the mission had shown him the importance of living sustainably for the benefit of everyone on Earth.

“I am so grateful to have had this incredible opportunity to live for a year in the spirit of planetary adventure toward an exciting future, and I am grateful for the opportunity to live the idea that we should use resources no faster than they can be replenished, and produce waste no faster than it can be processed back into resources,” Brockwell said.

“We cannot live, dream, create or explore for any significant amount of time if we do not live by these principles, but if we do, we can achieve and sustain amazing and inspiring things, such as exploring other worlds,” he said.

Scientist Anca Selariu said she had been asked many times why there was a fixation with Mars.

“Why go to Mars? Because it is possible,” he said. “Because space can unite and bring out the best in us. Because it is a defining step that ‘earthlings’ will take to light the way for the coming centuries.”