Love isolation? NASA wants you to spend 8 months locked in a Russian lab

Do you thrive in social isolation? NASA is looking for people to spend 8 months locked in a Russian lab for a new experiment.

When humans return to the moon and travel to Mars, they will need to be prepared for long-duration space travel and even longer stays on these far-off destinations. Currently, NASA’s Artemis program aims to land humans on the moon for the first time since NASA’s Apollo 17 mission landed in 1972. 

While the moon is the main goal of NASA’s Artemis program, the agency’s larger goal is to send crewed missions to Mars. But long-term space travel and habitation won’t be easy. Such missions will present both physical and mental challenges as astronauts work to not only survive, but perform important scientific research in uniquely difficult environments. 

Related: Life on Mars: Inside the HI-SEAS isolation habitat

The crew from a 2019, four-month-long isolation experiment in this facility.  (Image credit: NASA and the Institute for Biomedical Problems)

In the upcoming NASA-Russia experiment, which builds on a previous four-month-long study from 2019, a crew will live in isolation in a closed facility at Russia’s Institute for Biomedical Problems, which is in Moscow, NASA officials said in a statement. This habitat facility was used in 2011 for a notable series of Russian mock Mars missions known as Mars500. During these missions, crews spent 520 and 105 days (on two separate missions) in the facility. 

Participants that join the experiment’s crew will spend 8 months inside of a closed facility that, according to the statement will have “environmental aspects similar to those astronauts are expected to experience on future missions to Mars.” 

The crew will spend these months living together in isolation and working on scientific research. They will even virtually conduct experiments that future astronauts might be expected to perform on locations like the lunar surface. 

So why is NASA looking to lock people in isolation? 

By living and working in this Mars base-like environment, participants in this study will help NASA researchers to better understand the psychological and physiological effects of isolation, according to a NASA statement

This will be a type of analog mission,  a crewed mission on Earth but which mimics the environment or living conditions expected at a place like the moon or Mars. These missions help researchers to not only perform relevant science experiments but also to see how people might fare under strange conditions for extended periods of time. 

Now, currently, because of concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, a large number of people around the world are living in social isolation or some form of quarantine that is vastly different from their typical day-to-day living arrangement. 

So, if you’re finding that living in social isolation works for you, you might be particularly well-suited for living in a Mars-like environment and this could be for you. But first, you have to qualify. 

NASA’s  looking for “highly motivated” U.S. citizens between the ages of 30-55, according to the statement. Candidates must speak both Russian and English proficiently and have an M.S., PhD., M.D. or military officer training. applicants with a Bachelor’s degree or other relevant experience may also be considered, the agency said.

Those who are chosen to be a part of this crew will be compensated for their work. “There are different levels of compensation depending upon whether or not you are associated with NASA or if you are a NASA employee or contractor,” NASA said in the statement.

For more information on NASA’s upcoming Mars analog experiment, including how to apply, visit the agency’s website here.

Follow Chelsea Gohd on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

Published at Tue, 19 May 2020 14:00:35 +0000

Long before David Beaty became associate Chief Scientist for NASA’s Mars Program, he was a prospector. Beaty spent 10 years surveying remote parts of Earth for precious metals and another 12 years hunting for oil.

And this qualifies him to work for NASA? Precisely.

Beaty has the kind of experience NASA needs as the agency prepares to implement the Vision for Space Exploration. “Mining and prospecting are going to be key skills for settlers on the Moon and Mars,” he explains. “We can send them air and water and fuel from Earth, but eventually, they’ll have to learn to live off the land, using local resources to meet their needs.”

On the Moon, for instance, mission planners hope to find water frozen in the dark recesses of polar craters. Water can be split into hydrogen for rocket fuel and oxygen for breathing. Water is also good for drinking and as a bonus it is one of the best known radiation shields. “In many ways,” notes Beaty, “water is key to a sustained human presence.” Ice mining on the Moon could become a big industry.

Beaty has learned a lot from his long career prospecting, exploring and mining on Earth. Now, with an eye on other worlds, he has distilled four pieces of wisdom he calls “Dave’s Postulates” for prospectors working anywhere in the solar system:

Postulate #1: “Wishful thinking is no substitute for scientific evidence.”

“On Earth, banks won’t lend money for less than proven reserves. From a bank’s viewpoint, anything less than proven is not really there. This lesson has been learned the hard way by many a prospector,” he laughs.

For NASA the stakes are higher than profit. The lives of astronauts could hang in the balance. “Proven reserves on the Moon can perhaps be thought of as having enough confidence to risk the lives of astronauts to go after it.”

What does it take to “prove” a reserve–that is, to know with confidence that a resource exists in high enough concentration to be produced?

“That depends on the nature of the deposit,” explains Beaty. “Searching for oil on Earth, you can drill one hole, measure the pressure and calculate how much oil is there. You know that oil probably exists 100 feet away because liquids flow. However, for gold you must drill holes 100 feet apart, and assay the concentration of gold every five feet down each hole. That’s because the solid earth is heterogenous. 100 feet away the rocks may be completely different.”

Deposits on the Moon aren’t so well understood. Is lunar ice widespread or patchy, deep or shallow? Does it even exist? “We don’t know,” says Beaty. “We still have a lot to learn.”

Postulate #2: “You cannot define a reserve without specifying how it can be extracted. If it can’t be mined, it’s of no use.” Enough said.

an artist’s concept of a robotic ice miner

Postulate #3: “Perfect knowledge is not possible. Exploration costs money, and we can’t afford to buy all the information we want. We have to make choices, deciding what information is critical and what’s not.”

Right: Robotic ice miner, an artist’s concept. Credit: NASA/John Frassanito and Associates. [Larger image]

He offers the following hypothetical example:

“Suppose we decide to send a robot with a little drill and an onboard laboratory into Shackleton Crater, a place on the Moon with suspected ice deposits. We’re going to have to think pretty carefully about that lab. Maybe it can contain only two instruments. What are the two things we most need to know?”

“Suppose further that someone on Earth has invented a machine that can extract water from lunar soil. But it only works if the ice is close to the surface and if the ice is not too salty.” The choice is made. “We’d better equip the robot with instruments to measure the saltiness of the ice and its depth in the drill hole.”

Finally, Postulate #4: “Don’t underestimate the potential effects of heterogeneity. All parts of the Moon are not alike, just as all parts of Earth are not alike. So where you land matters.”

Ultimately, says Beaty, if geologists and engineers work together applying these rules as they goFree Web Content, living off the land on alien worlds might not be so hard after all.