NASA is Offering You the Chance to Live Like You're in Outer Space — on Earth

Home sweet home or a fixer upper?
Home sweet home or a fixer upper? ICON, courtesy of NASA
If you’re the type who has come to embrace the pandemic world of virtual meetings, rare social outings, and telecommuting, NASA may have just the gig for you.

As you’ll know unless you’ve been living under a moon rock, the federal space agency is under presidential orders to send the first astronauts to Mars by 2033, and right now folks over at the Johnson Space Center are working to figure out what sort of “right stuff” the astronauts who will make that jump will need to have.

Thus, NASA is preparing to start running a series of three year-long Mars simulations at the JSC, home of human spaceflight (or at least of astronaut training) as part of a program dubbed the Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog. The agency is accepting applications for phase one of the program, and they’re looking for a very specific type.

NASA scientists will be selecting four English-speaking U.S. citizens or permanent residents, ages 30 to 55 years old, to live in a 1,700-square-foot, 3D-printed habitat called the Mars Dune Alpha for the first simulation, slated to start up in late 2022.

To qualify, you’ll also need to be a nonsmoker with a Masters in a STEM field like mathematics or engineering and at least two years of professional experience or 1,000 hours of pilot experience is required. If you don’t meet those requirements, you might still be considered if you’ve completed two years of a STEM doctoral program, are a medical doctor, a test pilot, have military officer training, or four years of professional experience. In other words, they’re looking for four very disciplined folks who can follow orders, perform scientific experiments—and also be decent roommates.

And that makes sense when you consider what those who are selected for the program will be dealing with when they take up residence in Mars Dune Alpha. It’s going to be close quarters. The setup, using materials created by Austin-based construction outfit, ICON, and designed by Danish architecture firm, BIG-Bjark Ingels Group, will offer each crew member private quarters at one end of the structure, workstations on the other and group-shared living spaces in between. The pod will also feature some moveable furniture to give the residents some sort of control over the space they’ll be living in.

This program is crucial to help scientists prepare the first Mars-bound astronauts for such a Ray Bradbury-esque experience in the years to come, as Grace Douglas, lead scientist for NASA’s Advanced Food Technology research effort at the JSC, stated in a release. “Simulations on Earth will help us understand and counter the physical and mental challenges astronauts will face before they go,” she noted.

However, the job won’t just be about working remotely and keeping in remote contact with your loved ones. Those chosen for the gig will also be using virtual reality to simulate spacewalks and come up with solutions for hypothetical problems that may come up when we actually do make it to Mars. They’ll also be growing crops and just staying busy as a way to keep from getting depressed or anxious due to all of that isolation. Essentially, you’ll be using a lot of the skills you already developed (hopefully) to cope with the pandemic.

If this still sounds like your idea of a good time, NASA is taking applications through September 17.
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Dianna Wray is a nationally award-winning journalist. Born and raised in Houston, she writes about everything from NASA to oil to horse races.
Contact: Dianna Wray