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NASA trials human expeditions to Mars through 3D printed experiment

The space agency is paying volunteers to spend a year living within a 3D printed Martian habitat in Texas. Here, they will conduct VR spacewalks and simulated problems to test the feasibility of attempting the real thing.

Between the chaos caused by Covid-19 and the constant flow of demoralising climate change news, life on Earth over the last year has felt pretty exhausting.

If your annual holiday to Tenerife hasn’t recharged the batteries quite like it used to, NASA is offering a chance at blissful isolation for a whole year, all in the name of science.

Upping the ante for its Artemis Program, the space agency has planned an elaborate experiment to test the feasibility of establishing a human presence on Mars by 2025.

Four volunteers will spend a year within the confines of a 1,700 square-foot mock-up of the Red Planet called Mars Dune Alpha, located inside the Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas.

Preferably looking to recruit healthy adults aged between 30-55 with a degree in maths, computer science, engineering, or two years pilot experience, NASA will use this time to trial run simulations with equipment failures and see how its own engineers (as well as participants) fare with troubleshooting.

You wouldn’t want to be stranded on an empty planet without working comms or electricity right? The Martian did not look like a good time.

NASA has warned that while the whole experience will be wholly unique and provide a ‘incredible freedom,’ it will not be a walk in the park for the selected crew.

As well as system failures, those playing cosmonaut will be subjected to environmental stressors, restricted food and resources, and limited communications with home.

For this reason, applicants with connections to current or former astronauts will have an edge in the vetting process. You’re no doubt already familiar with that ‘experience’ chestnut customary with every job vacancy.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield – who once headed up operations at the International Space Station – stated that a similar experiment conducted by the Russians called Mars 500 proved ineffective in 2007, because participants were ‘too much like everyday people.’

Summarising the aims of the project, scientist Grace Douglas said, ‘We want to understand how humans perform. We are looking at realistic situations that could occur on Mars.’

When they’re not troubleshooting interstellar tech or playing endless games of Monopoly, this foursome will simulate space walks using virtual reality headsets and comms to NASA engineers.

Eventually building and maintaining any sort of infrastructure on Mars will most likely depend on gathering resources from the surrounding environment, and NASA wants to gauge how difficult that process may be in practice.

Whether you believe this sounds like a dystopian reality show or a year-long vacation from everyday living, it’s essential to begin practically preparing for first-hand interplanetary exploration before considering raising the stakes.

Social isolation projects have a somewhat problematic history in cognitive science, but NASA is adamant that this project will provide vital insight to best prepare real life astronauts both mentally and physically for lengthy expeditions.

Three such studies will take place over the next few years, with the first slated for August 2022.

If you’re a tech savvy introvert with an ex astronaut for an uncle, throw your name in the hat here.