NASA recruits explorers for yearlong simulated Mars mission on Earth

NASA will give some Earth-bound adventurers a chance to experience life on Mars without all that pesky space travel.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read

This render shows a conceptual Mars habitat.


You can't go to Mars just yet, but some Earth residents will be able to pretend. A NASA-run mission will coop up four crew members in a 1,700-square-foot 3D-printed habitat for a year.

NASA will conduct three of the yearlong analog missions meant to mimic the challenges of living on Mars without ever leaving Earth. "The analogs will support research to develop methods and technologies to prevent and resolve potential problems on future human spaceflight missions to the moon and Mars," the space agency said.

Applications are now closed for the first mission known officially as Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog. It will take place in a module called Mars Dune Alpha at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The module will have four private crew quarters, workstations, medical stations and food-growing areas.  

Take a look at the habitat and how it's made:

Watch this: Four people will spend a year living in this 3D-printed Mars habitat

This won't be a vacation. "The habitat will simulate the challenges of a mission on Mars, including resource limitations, equipment failure, communication delays, and other environmental stressors," NASA said. 

Participants will be on a "spaceflight-like diet," which means no fast-food burgers or pizza delivery. Astronauts on the ISS often eat nonperishable  foods, though they have been growing their own edible plants.

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The space agency laid out some criteria. Applicants must be non-smoking US citizens or permanent residents from 30 to 55 years old with a master's degree (or equivalent experience) in a STEM field. They will need to be able to pass an astronaut physical. 

NASA has not yet disclosed the pay scale for pretending to live on Mars for a year. 

The first Earth-bound mission is scheduled to start in late 2022. This will be an experience for dedicated people who aren't afraid of isolation, lack of comforts and a long time away from family and friends. But at least the crew will be stepping back out into the familiar world of Earth when it's all over.