NASA crew announced for simulated Mars mission next month

a red planet seen against the blackness of space
Mars. (Image credit: NASA)

NASA has selected four volunteers to go on a mission to Mars — without actually leaving Earth.

The simulated mission to the Red Planet will take place at a habitat created at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston; it will simulate what it would be like for astronauts to live and work on Mars for 45 days. The team includes Jason Lee, Stephanie Navarro, Shareef Al Romaithi and Piyumi Wijesekara. The four will call the agency's Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) home from May 10 through June 24. Two alternate crew members were also selected for the mission: Jose Baca and Brandon Kent. You can learn more about each member of the team here.

This mission is part of NASA's Human Research Program (HRP), which researches the best ways to keep humans safe while traveling in space. The journey these four will undergo will allow scientists to get a better understanding of the impacts that isolation, confinement and remote conditions have on the human body ahead of deep space missions planned to take place in the future. Not only will the crew conduct scientific research and perform operational tasks during their month and a half experience, but they will also use virtual reality to see what it would be like to walk on the Martian surface and communicate with the mission control — sending messages between Mars and Earth works with a delay of up to five minutes.

Related: Tour the mock Mars habitat where 4 NASA analog astronauts will spend the next year (video)

Human health studies will also be underway through HRP. These endeavors will focus on physiological, behavioral and psychological responses of each crew member. They're meant to help with ongoing research, in collaboration with Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) and the European Space Agency (ESA), about what astronauts could expect in terms of mental and physical health during an actual trip to Mars. By planning ahead with these simulations, researchers will have a better understanding of how to find ways to overcome any such obstacles that might arise for humans while exploring deep space.

NASA has selected four new crew members to partake in a simulated mission to Mars inside the agency’s Human Exploration Research Analog. From left are Jason Lee, Stephanie Navarro, Shareef Al Romaithi, and Piyumi Wijesekara.  (Image credit: C7M2 Crew)

While the HERA mission is only 45 days, NASA also has Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog (CHPEA) simulation missions that study what it would be like to live an entire year on Mars. The habitat for the latter is separate, but is also located at JSC. 

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Meredith Garofalo
Contributing Writer

Meredith is a regional Murrow award-winning Certified Broadcast Meteorologist and science/space correspondent. She most recently was a Freelance Meteorologist for NY 1 in New York City & the 19 First Alert Weather Team in Cleveland. A self-described "Rocket Girl," Meredith's personal and professional work has drawn recognition over the last decade, including the inaugural Valparaiso University Alumni Association First Decade Achievement Award, two special reports in News 12's Climate Special "Saving Our Shores" that won a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award, multiple Fair Media Council Folio & Press Club of Long Island awards for meteorology & reporting, and a Long Island Business News & NYC TV Week "40 Under 40" Award.