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NASA’s Always Seeking the Next HERA Crew. Could it Be You?


Monica Edwards and Laurie Abadie |
July 26, 2019

No sun on your skin, breeze on your face or favorite meals for 45 days and nights. Seclusion from family and friends. Sounds painful, but you’d actually be helping NASA get future astronauts safely to the Moon and onto Mars.

Could you do it? At least 24 space enthusiasts in the last year-and-a-half have done just this—without ever leaving Earth. The latest crew of four emerged from their isolation mission on July 8.

The Human Exploration Research Analog, or HERA, is located at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. With characteristics of a generic crewed spacecraft, HERA is a ground-based analog used by NASA’s Human Research Program to study the effects of isolation and confinement on humans. NASA is planning a human mission to the Moon in 2024. Researchers use analogs like HERA to develop safeguards to the hazards of spaceflight.

“I discovered the HERA program when I saw a call for participants for an analog mission in Russia,” said Julie Mason of Huntsville, Alabama. “From that, I found the Johnson Space Center website for HERA, read through it and found it to be really interesting. I have a lot of interest in NASA and I realized I was qualified. I wanted to see what it was like to work in an isolated environment.” 

This was the 19th HERA analog mission and the sixth to run for 45 days. The time seemed to go by quickly, as the crew had plenty to keep them busy.

“Our days were very structured. We really enjoyed the activities that involved the whole crew,” said Barret Schlegelmilch of Kent, Washington. “The Extravehicular Activity that we did using virtual reality was a lot of fun. This involved two people who flew the exploration vehicle from Polaris (our spacecraft) to Phobos (the largest moon of Mars). It took a lot of coordination and clear communication between the team members.” 

The crew also worked with a “ROBoT” onboard simulator similar to the one used on the International Space Station. 

“It’s mentally engaging, interesting and fun to work with hardware that’s similar to what astronauts actually use on the space station,” Schlegelmilch said.

This crew believed showing their employers and family the value of HERA helped get their support, which was critical to being able to leave their normal life for 45 days. 


The HERA XIX crew emerged from their habitat after 45 days of simulating a space voyage to Phobos, the largest moon of Mars. NASA is looking for future HERA participants for this important isolation and confinement research. Image Credit: NASA


Christian Clark from Honolulu said, “I was worried about the time off, but my employer believed in what I was going to do.” 

HERA project managers are always in search of new crewmates who are willing to step out of their daily life to help advance science. 

“It's critically important we find suitable volunteers, people who mimic or emulate the type of people that are selected for astronauts,” said Lisa Spence, Flight Analogs program manager. “It is work that is essential to keeping astronauts safe and healthy for long-duration spaceflight.”  

For anyone who thinks they may have what it takes to participate in a future HERA mission, a participant in the recent HERA XIX mission has some advice for you. 

“Come with an open mind, and be willing to work with others,” Clark said. 

Mason believes buying into the scenario you are given is important. “Get immersed into the mission. Really think about it as a trip to Mars. Let yourself get wrapped up in that. HERA’s mission control does a great job of making it a reality for you.” 

HERA Mission XX will begin in August, followed by one more Campaign 5 mission in January 2020. 

NASA Johnson Space Center’s Test Subject Screening group is accepting résumés  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 who wish to become test subjects should visit: https://herastudy.jsc.nasa.gov/apply

 

NASA's Human Research Program, or HRP, is dedicated to discovering the best methods and technologies to support safe, productive human space travel. HRP enables space exploration by reducing the risks to astronaut health and performance using ground research facilities, the International Space Station and analog environments. This leads to the development and delivery of an exploration biomedical program focused on: informing human health, performance, and habitability standards; developing countermeasures and risk-mitigation solutions; and advancing habitability and medical-support technologies. HRP supports innovative, scientific human research by funding more than 300 research grants to respected universities, hospitals and NASA centers to over 200 researchers in more than 30 states.

One of the first tasks of each four-person crew is designing their own graphic identifier for the mission. HERA XIX crew member Barret Schlegelmilch attaches theirs to the door of the vessel. This is the symbolic ritual of a successful mission. Image Credit: NASA
One of the first tasks of each four-person crew is designing their own graphic identifier for the mission. HERA XIX crew member Barret Schlegelmilch attaches theirs to the door of the vessel. This is the symbolic ritual of a successful mission. Image Credit: NASA