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

It's been a week since NASA locked four people inside a mock Mars habitat for the next year and we've just received our best glimpse yet at what life inside the simulated space base is like.

Located at NASA's Johnson Space Center, in Houston, Texas, the 3D-printed mock-Martian base, known as Mars Dune Alpha, is the home of the agency's first-ever Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog (CHAPEA) mission for crewmembers Kelly Haston, Ross Rockwell, Nathan Jones and Anca Selariu for the next year. 

This is the first of three CHAPEA missions NASA is using to investigate how to best design and plan for future missions to Mars. The four-person crew will live and work inside the habitat while coordinating with mission control operators to conduct activities similar to those expected of a real astronaut crew, actually on Mars, including the 22-minute communication delay that exists between Earth and the red planet. 

While the CHAPEA-1 quartet perform their duties, NASA researchers will be keeping their eyes on the crew themselves. How they interact with their habitat, and with each other, over the course of their year-long stay will provide crucial data that can inform everything from furniture layout and meal planning, to crew assignments and equipment upkeep. 

Related: 1 year on 'Mars:' NASA analog astronauts begin mock Red Planet mission

For the CHAPEA-1 crew, Mars Dune Alpha offers four separate sleeping quarters, with a 1,700 square-foot total interior. A video posted to a NASA Twitter account earlier this year gives a quick tour of the habitat and its adjoining 1,200-square-foot enclosure used for simulated EVAs (extra-vehicular activities) the crew will take to "explore" the Martian surface. 

A white door with the red triangular CHAPEA mission logo on its center. The doorway and structure walls are made of stacked, 3D printed red clay colored layers.

The doorway to Mars Dune Alpha, the 3D-printed CHAPEA mission habitat at NASA's Johnson Space Center, in Houston, Texas. (Image credit: NASA/NASA Video Screenshot)

The walk through Mars Dune Alpha reveals the row of crew quarters in a hallway across from a lavatory and shower area. That hall turns at its end to an area setup for small-scale produce production, which sits adjacent to an open kitchen and recreation area with a table lounge furniture. 

A doorway across the communal space leads to work area with a desk and shelving for equipment. Rooms on either side house fitness and laundry machinery, and robotics control stations and a 3D printer. Another doorway in the open work area features a small medical bay, which sits across from the habitat's primary airlock. 

The Mars Dune Alpha floor plan. The mock Martian habitat is home to four NASA analog astronauts for the next year. (Image credit: NASA/Melodie Yashar)

Simulated Martian soil and the backdrop of red, rocky cliffs line the structure’s walls to offer the CHAPEA-1 crew as full immersion as possible while they perform EVAs and other mission research. They will use this area for their only egresses from Mars Dune Alpha until their "return" to Earth on July 7, 2024. 

Until then, the Martian sandbox on the other side of the habitat's airlock will be the analog astronauts’ only chance for a change of scenery.

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Josh Dinner
Writer, Content Manager

Josh Dinner is's Content Manager. He is a writer and photographer with a passion for science and space exploration, and has been working the space beat since 2016. Josh has covered the evolution of NASA's commercial spaceflight partnerships, from early Dragon and Cygnus cargo missions to the ongoing development and launches of crewed missions from the Space Coast, as well as NASA science missions and more. He also enjoys building 1:144 scale models of rockets and human-flown spacecraft. Find some of Josh's launch photography on Instagram and his website, and follow him on Twitter, where he mostly posts in haiku.

  • skynr13
    What I see in this habitat is this is not a torture like living on Mars would be under confined conditions. Firstly, they should have larger crop areas and make them only eat what they grow. One shower and one toilet for all four would present an area of edicate needed in such conditions. Everything else is Ok, but the structure itself, should be tested for air tightness. So that the entire thing can be reproduced on Mars without having to do the whole experiment again for any of it's aspects. My only other comment on this is, with the kitchen and the rec center so close together, they'll eat and sit around so much they'll become like fat pigs! A larger fitness area would help this problem.