Exploring an Asteroid Without Leaving Earth
You may remember that back in February, four crew members lived and worked inside our Human Research Exploration Analog (HERA). That crew, made up of 4 women, simulated a 715-day journey to a Near-Earth asteroid. That 30 day mission helped our researchers learn how isolation and close quarters affect individual and group behavior. Studies like this at our Johnson Space Center prepare us for long duration space missions, like a trip to an asteroid or even to Mars.
We now have another crew, made up of four men, living and working inside the HERA. This is the spacecraft’s 10th crew. The mission began on May 3, and will end on June 1.
The crew members are currently living inside this compact, science-making house. But unlike in a normal house, these inhabitants won’t go outside for 30 days. Their communication with the rest of planet Earth will also be very limited, and they won’t have any access to internet. The only people they will talk with regularly are mission control and each other.
The HERA X crew is made up of four males selected from the Johnson Space Center Test Subject Screening (TSS) pool. The crew member selection process is based on a number of criteria, including the same criteria for astronaut selection. The four would-be astronauts are:
- Ron Franco
- Oscar Mathews
- Chris Matty
- Casey Stedman
Lisa Spence, the Human Research Program’s Flight Analogs Project Manager, explained that ideally they would like the four-person crews to be two males and two females. Due to the applicant pool, HERA IX was an all female crew, and HERA X (this current mission) is all male.
What will they be doing?
The crew will test hardware prototypes to get “the bugs worked out” before they are used in off-Earth missions. They will conduct experiments involving plants, brine shrimp, and creating a pice of equipment with a 3D printer. After their visit to an asteroid, the crew will simulate the processing of soil and rocks they collected virtually. Researchers outside of the spacecraft will collect data regarding team dynamics, conflict resolution and the effects of extended isolation and confinement.
How real is a HERA mission?
When we set up an analog research investigation, we try to mimic as many of the spaceflight conditions as we can. 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, depending on how far their simulated spacecraft is from Earth.
Obviously we are not in microgravity, so none of the effects of microgravity on the human or the vehicle can be tested. You can mimic isolation to some degree – although the crew knows they are note really isolated from humanity, the communications delays and ban from social media help them to suspend reality. We mimic confinement and the stress that goes along with it.
Scientists and researchers use analogs like HERA to gather more data for comparison to data collected aboard the space station and from other analogs so they can draw conclusions needed for a real mission to deep space, and one day for a journey to Mars.
A few other details:
- The crew follows a timeline that is similar to one used for the ISS crew.
- They work 16 hours a day, Monday through Friday. This includes time for daily planning, conferences, meals and exercises.
- They will be growing and taking care of plants and brine shrimp, which they will analyze and document.
Past HERA crew members wore a sensor that recorded heart rate, distance, motion and sound intensity. When crew members were working together, the sensor would also record their proximity as well, helping investigators learn about team cohesion.
Researchers also learned about how crew members react to stress by recording and analyzing verbal interactions and by analyzing “markers” in blood and saliva samples.
In total, this mission will include 22 individual investigations across key human research elements. From psychological to physiological experiments, the crew members will help prepare us for future missions.
Want a full, 360 degree look at HERA? Check out and explore the inside of the habitat.
For more information on our Human Research Program, visit: www.nasa.gov/hrp.
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12 May, 2016
Exploring an Asteroid Without Leaving Earth
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