Exploration Research Analog (HERA), located at NASA’s Johnson Space
Center in Houston, is a simulated environment that produces physical and mental
effects similar to those experienced in space. NASA’s Human Research
study the effects of isolation and confinement on the human body without leaving
We sat down with the crew
of HERA XVIII and a research scientist on the team to learn more about the
What was your background before getting involved with HERA?
Rod Borgie, HERA
Participant: I am active duty Navy dual designator (flight surgeon/naval aviator)
and neuroradiologist currently serving as deputy force surgeon for Commander,
Naval Air Forces. I am from San Diego and enjoy spending time with my wife,
Suzie, and three kids Andrew, Emma and Jonathan.
Sara Edwards, HERA
Participant: I'm a nurse from the Chicago area. I also work at Fort Carson,
Colorado, as an Army reservist.
Ian Porter, HERA
Participant: I am an active duty U.S. Navy board-certified aerospace
medicine physician and flight surgeon. Originally, I am from Maryland, but now
I currently reside in Pensacola, Florida, with my wife, Sarah Porter, and my
two children, Gracie and Maximus. We love being in the Navy, and our family
hobby is fishing currently (when in Rome …).
Dustin Wallace, HERA
Participant: I graduated in 2006 from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy with
a Bachelor of Science in marine engineering systems, a commission as ensign in
the U.S. Navy Reserve and a 3rd assistant engineer merchant marine license.
Since then, I maintain two careers as a Navy reservist and a merchant marine engineering
officer, where I am a Lieutenant Commander and hold a chief engineer’s license,
respectively. I am also a 2016 graduate from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical
University, where I earned a Master of Science in aeronautics with a
concentration in space studies.
Experiment Support Scientist: I classify myself as a young guy still
exploring my career and where it may take me. I earned both a bachelor’s degree
in kinesiology and a master’s degree in biomedical sciences from Texas A&M
University. After a year at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
working in breast cancer prevention, I took the opportunity to achieve a
long-time dream of mine: to work at Johnson Space Center. I work as an experiment
support scientist under International Space Station medical projects in Flight
Analogs. I act as a liaison between our team and the Principal Investigator (PI)
team. The goal is to integrate each of the PI’s science with HERA habitat
operations, and then plan and implement data collection in the habitat. I also
participate in the fun of developing some of the “simulated” experiments the
What did you miss most from the outside world?
Borgie: Most of us mentioned that we missed sunlight and seasons and the smell of outside air. However, I missed going to my kids’ ball games and activities the most. Although it can be very hectic, I am really looking forward to jumping back into their lives on my return home.
Edwards: While we did get some phone conferences, I still missed simple and frequent communication with friends and family the most.
Porter: My family first, for sure. I want to make sure I make that clear so I do not get in trouble (laughing here). I am a big sports fan, so I missed access to sports and fishing. I did overcome this some by posting up Washington Capitals Stanley Cup banners and Maryland Terrapin banners in my small piece of real estate.
Wallace: I missed certain smells associated with the outside world, such as the scent of freshly cut grass, or the aroma enveloping restaurants as one traverses a vibrant city street. I also missed not having the freedom to go running or do my martial art, Capoeira.
Schneider: The crew has to live, work and sleep in the same space. If I were them, I would miss going home to my family and pet dog the most. On the other hand, not having a long commute home after work does sound nice … The crew’s commute is only a 10-second climb up a ladder.
What was the most challenging obstacle you overcame during the mission?
Borgie: Early on,
the challenge was getting the team to work efficiently across a multitude of
tasks. The team got along great on a personal level, and we all had a common
goal of maximum performance for a successful mission. We capitalized on each
other’s strengths to plan out daily workload effectively.
think our biggest obstacle was learning the simulation platforms used in the
HERA program. We continued to improve throughout the mission.
Porter: One task
sticks out to me the most that stressed the crew, and it involved problem
solving and communications with Earth-based teams to help find a water-mining
site on Mars. Each time we had to deal with communications delays, I suggested
we make a communications map to standardize the people we talk to. This helped
us tremendously, and I believe we really overcame this obstacle early.
Wallace: The most
challenging obstacle, for me, was knowing that a camera is pointed towards me
at virtually all times of the day, which required adjustment. This dynamic, in
turn, allowed me to be more aware of myself.
I work as a liaison between Flight Analogs, the PI team and our ground support
personnel (GSP). In troubleshooting hardware, for example, to perform a simple
re-download of data, we first get a report from the crew about the issue. I
then get a phone call from the Mission Control Center (MCC) about the issue and
get in touch with the PI and my leadership to come to the perfect conclusion on
resolving the issue. I then have to create a “space-like” response to pass back
to the GSPs for them to relay back to the crew members. All of this can be stressed
by the communication between MCC and crew being delayed by up to 10 minutes,
depending on where they are in the mission.
What did you learn most about yourself living in a confined space with other people?
starting our mission, I really wanted to remember astronaut Reid Wiseman’s
thoughts regarding the importance of “expedition behavior;” as a team member,
you should always help others and do what is needed at any time—despite how you
might be feeling. I wasn’t sure how hard it would be to maintain that attitude
during the course of the mission, but I found it takes minimal extra effort,
especially when your crewmates exhibit similar behavior. The payoff was huge,
and [it] really was critical to mission success.
in a confined space requires some adjustment, although the great crew members
made that adjustment easier. I think the biggest adjustment was pre-planning
how to handle activities that were all performed simultaneously in a small
Porter: Among the
many things I learned, I believe one thing that stands out is that my Navy and
Marine Corps military experience helped when it came to dealing with less space
and privacy. I remember thinking to myself in mission that: “… hey, this is
doable, and oftentimes better than what I had experienced in previous military
Wallace: Given my
dual-career background, I was used to operating in relatively confined and
isolated settings, between sea- and land-based environments. However, there
remained a degree of uncertainty that I overcame during the mission.
Schneider: I can
only speculate what the crew learns about themselves when living in confined
isolation for 45 days. If I put myself in their shoes, I imagine they quickly
find out how important their personal space is to them. Personally, I learned
that I really enjoy training the crew on their in-mission tasks and watching
them follow through and do a great job.
What did you enjoy working on most from a research perspective?
Borgie: I really
enjoyed the human behavior research and how we were given tools to enhance
communication, explore team-building strategies and actively work conflict-management
solutions. The experience was enjoyable, as I was fortunate to be part of a
high-functioning crew. My crew members were an outstanding group, and I feel
blessed to have shared time with them. I can honestly say I am a better person
for having done this mission with them.
Edwards: From a
research perspective, I thought the life science was most enjoyable. We compared
the growth rate of Triops shrimp, and we almost regarded those shrimp as pets
by the end of the mission.
Porter: I really
enjoyed team tasks especially the ones involving team decision making. It was always a fascinating challenge to me
and it was captivating to see the crew lobby as stakeholders in each task
involving a team decision. Whenever we made a crew unified decision, it was a
small victory that would fuel our next challenge. Small victories in a long mission count… we
even came up with a saying every morning “time to kick butt again.”
enjoyed the flight analogs aspect of the study, which involved simulators. One
simulator in particular required us to work as a team to perform space-borne
enjoyed working on the wearable technology. The concept of using biomedical
data to discover which activities are favored or disliked by the crew is
interesting to me. I think developing more unobtrusive ways of measuring this
data is something that needs more focus, and I think HERA is a great platform
for testing this class of devices.
What was your biggest craving when the mission ended?
Borgie: I really
looked forward to non-dehydrated food and fresh salad. Interestingly, I did not
miss social media, my cell phone or the internet. It was a very nice to
disconnect from those devices and connect with my new surroundings; I enjoyed
the break from those devices.
Edwards: I craved
fresh veggies and fruits after the mission ended.
general, I would say just naturally hydrated and fresh food. To be more
specific, though, I would say chicken wings and diet coke. (I know it’s a weird
combination, but it goes well with sports.)
able to eat freshly prepared food, as well as reconnecting with family and
Schneider: In the
past, the crews have gone straight to picking up a big juicy hamburger. This
time they wanted to get some fresh food that wasn’t rehydrated. For me, I’m
always craving tacos after a mission’s end—no idea why.
Did you develop any new personality traits during the mission that you will continue to develop?
Borgie: I did not
necessarily develop “new” traits, but certainly learned the importance of some
traits. Humor is great for stress mitigation and a powerful tool when used
appropriately. To overcome my personal challenge of having a terrible poker
face during our free-time card game, I purchased a set of Luchador (Mexican wrestler)
masks that the crew wore during the game. It was a funny and strange sight, but
also leveled the playing field for me since my happiness or disappointment with
my cards was not as readily noticed.
Edwards: I think
a personality trait that might have been strengthened by my time in HERA is the
use of humor in communication to alleviate stress and reduce emotional
Porter: I do not
think I developed any new personality traits, but I do believe something I will
try to implement in my life is just to listen better. I learned to listen in
HERA, because I found that good communication begets success. I think I can
apply this to family and work life back home.
experienced allowed me become more aware of my surroundings and have a higher
sense of self. The confined environment also permitted me to refine
interpersonal skills with my fellow crew members.
we can only observe the crew members’ personalities through voice-coms and our
mission log (a text-based interface between the crew and MCC) during the mission.
We can actually sense when the crew is agitated, or if they are having fun. I
enjoy seeing who becomes a comedian via text versus who is strictly business.
On a personal level, I was able to really step up when it came to my leadership
and coordination skills. I was tasked with coordinating an array of
troubleshooting efforts, which required a good amount of correspondence with the
PIs and Flight Analogs leadership.
How has your experience helped inform future NASA missions?
Borgie: It is my
hope that our time in HERA will be valuable data for future habitat
construction for long-distance space travel and colonization in terms of what
are minimal requirements for privacy and other space concerns. I hope our
personal data and traits will help inform future team selections to increase
the likelihood for long-term success.
mission will help NASA identify potential factors as stressors and also
determine that other factors do not induce stress; this will help with
long-duration travel in the future.
Porter: It is my
hope that my time shared with the HERA 18 crew at NASA’s HERA habitat produces
the high-quality data the researchers are looking for. I truly believe that
this data can help answer questions we all have about long-term space missions.
I think it will help get us there. I am so thankful and blessed to have a family
and a Residency in Aerospace Medicine (RAM) Navy team that supported me and
thought it was worth the precious time away from home.
Wallace: We were
able to provide a small part in laying the foundation to eventually conduct
human spaceflight missions to the Moon and Mars.
makes the dream work. Each crew’s unique problem-solving solutions to team
challenges provides the PIs with more information on how optimize astronaut
selection for long-duration space missions—specifically, Mars. Isolation,
confinement and high fidelity are the hallmarks of the HERA analog. My role has
been to preserve those traits while integrating new science, which can be a
challenge. When we start going on long-haul exploration missions, I will know
that my role had an impact on those astronauts.
Noah Michelsohn, Johnson Space Center