The HERA Mission 11 crew successfully “splashed-down” on Wednesday, August 10, at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston. This 30-day, on-Earth, simulation paves the way for future human research in the Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA).
A spaceflight analog is a situation on Earth that mimics physical and mental effects on the body experienced in space. HERA is one of several research analogs used by the Human Research Program (HRP) to prepare NASA astronauts for deep space missions, such as missions to an asteroid or Mars.
The four test subjects that spent 30 days in HERA are: Tess Caswell, engineer; Emmanuel Urquieta, medical doctor; Daniel Surber, meteorologist; and Kyle Foster, image scientist.
HRP required that the test subjects conduct the same experiments as the two previous HERA missions this year. This enables researchers to identify patterns and variances in the research data. Experiments included testing hardware prototypes, creating equipment with a 3-D printer, testing out a new concept for space food, flying a simulated exploration vehicle, and virtually conducting an Extravehicular Activity (EVA) on an asteroid.
While the HERA crew conducted their research inside the analog, the HERA analog team and researchers monitored them from the outside. They collected crew data on effects of extended isolation and confinement, team dynamics and conflict resolution.
HRP’s Flight Analogs Project Manager Lisa Spence said, “The astronaut corp has had great success with its selection process. With the astronauts in mind, we try to identify people who fit a similar profile. We also make our analog as realistic to real space missions as possible, which includes 16 hour work days, six days a week, with a real-life, timeline of scheduled activities from the HERA Mission Control Center.”
The analog data that is collected will be helpful for preparing human performance, medical and behavioral health countermeasures and designing space craft accommodations for a deep space mission. The true test would be prolonging the duration in the isolated environment to mimic a three-year, journey to Mars. The research being conducted builds in appropriate safeguards such as rotational leadership roles per activity, to ensure mental health is as protected as physical health.
Presently, HRP is preparing for its fourth and final, 30-day mission in September 2016. Mission 12 will begin soon with four new test subjects; a minimum of 16 subjects will be needed for next year. Campaign 4 will extend the HERA missions to 45 days. The Test Subject Screening group is accepting curriculum vitaes (CV) for healthy, non-smoking volunteers, ages 30 to 55 for future missions. Volunteers will be compensated and must pass a physical and psychological assessment to qualify. Volunteers wishing to become test subjects should e-mail their CV to Jscfirstname.lastname@example.org or call 281-212-1492.