When the four crewmembers for the 20th Human Exploration Research Analog simulation learned they had been chosen to participate in the last human analog mission of 2019 at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, the first thing they did was get on a conference call together. After all, they were about to spend nine straight weeks together – six of those confined inside of a mock spacecraft — so they wanted to get acquainted right away.
“After the call, we were very eager to meet each other,” said Robert Ferguson of Atlanta, Georgia. “That drove the momentum of our team cohesion once we did meet in person at JSC,” he said.
As with actual space missions, each HERA mission has a different gender make-up; this time the crew was all male. The crew – Ferguson; Mounir Alafrangy of Washington, D.C.; Ryan Paldanius of Houston; and Amran Asadi of Stanford, CA. – spent two weeks together training and team building before the 45-day analog began. The men agreed the early start was crucial to how well they bonded.
This HERA XX crew “landed” on Sept. 30 after a mock mission from Earth to Phobos, the largest moon of Mars. In reality, the crew stayed inside of the HERA habitat for the duration of the mission. HERA is a ground-based analog used by NASA’s Human Research Program to study the effects of isolation and confinement on humans. This research will help NASA better understand the hazards of human spaceflight as it prepares to send astronauts to the Moon and on to Mars, and bring them safely home.
Each HERA campaign consists of four missions that complete the exact same tasks. One of the aims of HERA Campaign 5 is to look deeper at how much space and privacy is needed to be successful in isolation for a long duration. This is tested by limiting privacy, such as removing sleeping curtains, and limiting space by adding bulk and closing off areas available to previous crews. The HERA XX crew said they did not feel hindered by either of these limitations.
“When the doors locked, we were no longer strangers,” Alafrangy said.
“It is a confined environment,” Ferguson agreed, “but for me, personally, I was surprised that it did not have much of an impact on me like I thought it would.”
HERA missions began at Johnson in 2014. They started as seven-day missions and have become longer as systems, procedures and objectives have matured and expanded. This latest group completed the 20th HERA mission and the seventh to last 45 days.
“One of the key factors of our success is we broke down all the tasks that needed to be accomplished into small parts,” Alafrangy said. “Everyone took a part. Then we rotated those tasks so that everybody got to experience them, and to become more proficient on those that were more difficult for us.”
The crew agreed that weekly family telephone calls made a big difference in the success of their mission. “The weekly private family conferences were critical for keeping morale up. Having that contact with the outside world gave us something to look forward to and was really important to our success,” said Paldanius.
During an interview on day 40, five days before egress, the crew mentioned food cravings were a bit of a challenge for them.
“I’m looking forward to a burger as soon as I get out of here. Something grilled that I can really sink my teeth into,” said Alafrangy.
Paldanius agreed, saying that as soon as the simulated mission ended, he wanted to hug his family and his girlfriend, thank the behind-the-scenes HERA personnel, then go straight to “get a hamburger.”
We provide this link to the NASA HERA article, but do not try to make the whole article ours. It does not belong to us. We only give you a flavour of it, so you can make up your own mind if you like and want to support the award-winning journalism behind it, like we do. Of course, we do not or could support all the points made in any article we highlight, but that is part of living in a democracy. We believe the material is relevant to all and is necessary for their personal judgments.