NASA crew leaves Mars habitat after 378 days inside

A NASA crew has emerged from a simulated Mars environment after spending more than 12 months inside the 3D-printed habitat. 

Kelly Haston, Anca Selariu, Ross Brockwell and Nathan Jones entered the Mars simulation on June 25, 2023, becoming the first crew of NASA’s Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog (CHAPEA) project.

The four volunteers lived and worked inside the 17,000-square-foot space to simulate a mission to the red planet. They left the artificial alien environment at Johnson Space Center in Houston around 5 p.m. Saturday, July 6. 

CHAPEA crew enters Mars simulation in June 2023 (NASA)

"It’s actually just so wonderful to be able to say ‘hello’ to you all," Haston, the mission commander, said upon exiting. 

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Jones, a physician and the mission medical officer, said the 378 days spent in confinement "went by quickly."

CHAPEA mission

The first CHAPEA crew spent much of their time on simulated spacewalks, or "Marswalks" as they called them. They also grew vegetables to supplement their provisions and maintained the habitat and their equipment. 

They experienced challenges that a Mars crew would likely face, like limited resources, extreme isolation and 22-minute delays in communication with their home planet. 

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"They've been separated from their families, placed on a carefully prescribed meal plan and undergone a lot of observation," Steve Koerner, deputy director of Johnson Space Center, said.  "[It’s] crucial science as we prepare to send people on to the red planet."

A 360-degree view inside the sandbox portion of the Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog habitat at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. (Bill Stafford/NASA)

Two additional CHAPEA missions are planned ahead of the ultimate goal: a real-life mission to Mars.

Science officer Anca Selariu said she had been asked many times why there is a fixation on Mars.

"Why go to Mars? Because it’s possible," she said. "Because space can unite and bring out the best in us. Because it’s one defining step that ‘Earthlings’ will take to light the way into the next centuries."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.