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Four People, A Small Cabin, A Month of Isolation: Only for NASA

Talk about “too close for comfort.” NASA is taking it to the extreme. Would you volunteer to be cooped up in a cramped three-story “house” for thirty days with three strangers?

Not only that, you would only be allowed to communicate with your crew mates and mission control. No Internet, cell phones or outside contact. Oh, and you can’t leave the building. Well, four volunteers have agreed to do just that.

HERA Volunteer Crew

HERA Volunteer Crew

This is NASA, after all, and if astronauts are to coexist in tight quarters for months at a time while exploring the universe, without outside contact, scientists need to prepare for the consequences. Better to have things go wrong and solve problems on earth rather than in deep space.

In this latest “trip” in the ongoing project, crew members will be wearing numerous tracking devices, and NASA will be collecting information about their health, mood, performance, team cohesion and well-being. The goal is to assess risks and to determine how to keep people healthy and happy in space.

They will be living in an isolation module at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Texas. This three-story living space is what NASA is calling the “Human Research Exploration Analog (HERA) or “science-making house.” It’s basically a simulation of a space station and will be operated as such. The day-to-day timeline is like that aboard the space station, involving 16-hour workdays. The time will be devoted to planning, meetings, exercise, meals, conducting experiments, and tending the plants and brine shrimp (sustainable food sources).

HERA Module

HERA Module

The experiment will be simulating parts of a 715-day journey to a near earth asteroid. Each day will replicate certain activities on the trip to the asteroid (where they will simulate a space walk and collect samples), on the surface of the asteroid and returning to earth from it.

NASA explains,

This simulation means that even when communicating with mission control there will be a delay in all communications ranging from 1-10 minutes each day. The crew will also perform virtual spacewalk missions once they reach their destination, where they will inspect the asteroid and collect samples from it.

This doesn’t seem like a job for the claustrophobic or the antisocial. It would make for an entertaining reality television show.