Destination: Mars Crosser Asteroid GeoGraphos
Mission: Investigate and Survey designated sites on GeoGraphos’s surface
Spacecraft: The Asteroid Exploration Mission (AEM) vehicle / habitat
Crew: Commander Anima Patil-Sabale
Flight Engineer Samuel Wald
Mission Specialist I Samson Phan
Mission Specialist II Debra Hodges
HERA VII Mission Patch
With the International Space Station now built, NASA next aims for manned deep space missions. Before we put astronauts at risk by sending them into the unknown, we need to understand not only the physiological but also the psychological impact of long duration missions on the astronauts. Hence simulation missions are being undertaken to study the various factors that will affect astronauts on such missions.
I got selected for one such deep space mission analogs HERA, Human Exploration Research Analog (https://www.nasa.gov/hrp/research/analogs/hera). HERA is a part of NASA’s Human Research Program, and is an analog for simulation of isolation, confinement, and remote conditions of long duration mission exploration scenarios.
The selection process had me go through medical and psychological tests similar to the ones NASA astronauts go through, so we are considered “astronaut-like” material. It gave me an understanding of how important it is to stay fit, healthy and emotionally stable as well.
Level 1 of the AEM Hab
This was a mission to and from GeoGraphos, with some time in between spent studying the asteroid. So what would in reality be an about 400 day mission, was compressed into 14 days for this sim. Since any space travel of this nature will involve a communication delay as the distance increases from the Earth, there were 5 minute and 10 minute delays in communications with Mission Control introduced for couple days each once we had settled into the mission.
After 10 days of training on various aspects of the mission from knowing the workings of our Asteroid Exploration Mission Habitat to the functioning of the apps like ISS Fit, iShort that we would be using to record our meals or any issues during the mission, we finally ingressed into our AEM spacecraft, hatches were locked down and we were ready to launch on 11th June 2015 at 9pm.
The rocket engines fired, after a lot of roaring and rumbling we were finally enroute GeoGraphos, leaving Mother Earth behind! Soon we had crossed Mars and Mars’s moon Phobos and were approaching GeoGraphos!
Our daily routines were going well. Our days would start with one of the crew members favorite wakeup music. Mine were the “Gayatri Mantra” and a Sikh Bhajan “Koi Aan Milave”. To me these gave a beautiful homely touch to the entire environment and was a great way to begin my day!
At the beginning of the day and at the end of the day, and also sometimes in between we would have to take team building, individual performance surveys, cognition tests. After our post-sleep surveys we would have breakfast while we looked through the daily news paper and our Mission Plan for the day that would be delivered to us by Mission Control on our individual, role specific iPads. We had individualized schedules for the day on the iPads following which we would begin our day.
During the mission as a part of our daily activities, we performed science experiments like performing flight simulations, building and testing rovers, performing brine shrimp analysis, performing seed growing experiments, meteorite sample observations to name a few. We also participated in alertness and mental tests to assess our behavioral health and performance; used real time neurocognitive assessment toolkit for checking fatigue levels, optical computer recognition to help understand our stress and fatigue levels, audio and video recordings to dynamically monitor cognitive, emotional, and social mechanisms that influence performance. We performed system maintenance activities on our AEM spacecraft and worked with automation tools for the Carbon Dioxide Removal System, Electrical Power System, Temperature Control System, and other systems that made our craft ‘liveable’ for us humans in the harshness of space!
We used tools the astronauts use on the International Space Station today to track our daily activities, record our meals, record issues with the systems etc.
Click first picture to zoom in,scroll through pics and read captions:
Our MMSEV – Multi Mission Space Exploration Vehicle
HERA VII was a great mission and learning experience for us as a crew. We worked great as a team, handled issues professionally and put in our best in the 14 days of our mission.
For me, this was an important milestone in my journey towards my goal, it gave me the experience of being an astronaut (minus the microgravity of course! :-))
Our quest for deep space missions, a journey to Mars or an asteroid cannot be undertaken unless we answer all the questions that surround this big step that mankind will soon take. Missions like HERA are contributing towards our understanding of the psychological impact of long term confinement on such missions.
I am humbled and honored to have been a part of HERA !