Sorry for the delay: after decades of more or less slow "run-up", man is about to put his feet back on the Moon, to then move (hopefully in less time) to the red planet. But what will it be like to live on Mars? NASA offers us a glimpse into the future thanks to Mars Dune Alpha, a 3D printed habitat that simulates Martian conditions.
See you in a year
The habitat is located at the NASA Research Center in Houston, Texas. Four volunteers will live in this 160 square meter space for a year, while a team of scientists will monitor their physical and mental health to better understand the challenges of prolonged isolation.
Mars Dune Alpha was created for three experiments called CHAPEA, an acronym that stands for Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog. Grace Douglas, the lead researcher on the project, says the data gleaned from the 'Martian' habitat will be invaluable. They will help NASA understand how to manage resources during missions on the red planet: one of the biggest challenges, in fact, is represented by the severe weight limitations that require maximum selectivity on the materials to be taken on a mission.
Let's take a look at the habitat of "Mars"
Assume it's a house with four rooms, a gym, and lots of red sand. Inside Mars Dune Alpha, volunteers will have two bathrooms, a vertical farm for growing salad, a room for medical care, a relaxation area and various workstations.
There is also an "external" habitat that reproduces the Martian environment, with equipment that the astronauts can use: a weather station, a brick-making machine and a small greenhouse.
We still don't know the names of the four volunteers of the first experiment, NASA is still proceeding with the selection (with particular emphasis on backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
Anyway, thanks to Mars Dune Alpha and the CHAPEA experiments, NASA is increasingly sharpening its technical "weapons". The ground (or rather, the red sand) for future human missions is almost ready.