BLOG: Mission: Space on Earth

Gayle Eubank
York Dispatch

Let's go with the assumption that anyone reading this blog has the typical science geek fantasy of being an astronaut. Along with the other fantasy of competing in the Olympics (so cool!), this is one of those that children of a certain ilk come up with as the pinnacle of existence, a lifelong goal, the be all and end all.

Patch for NASA's HERA X missions

And, let's face it, going into space is actually a much longer shot than going to the Olympics — every two years, thousands of athletes from around the globe compete in a huge variety of sports, while a relative handful of people in the history of the world, 536 if Wikipedia is to be believed, have made it off the planet.

But NASA is working with small groups of would-be astronauts to simulate long-term space missions without leaving Earth in its Human Space Exploration Analog.


The latest of these missions, HERA X, began Monday. The crew of four men will spend the next 30 days in a three-story pod with an airlock, medical station, work deck, kitchen, flight deck, four bunks and a bathroom. They will do a variety of experiments including processing soil and rock samples they collect virtually, and they'll use virtual reality goggles to enter a space exploration vehicle and hover above an asteroid to collect those samples.

They'll also be subject to a lot of the physical experiences felt by astronauts, from blasting off to splashing down, NASA said. The one thing that can't be simulated while on Earth is microgravity, so no floating (sigh). But at the same time, that makes things like using the bathroom and showering easier. There are also built-in communication delays and a ban on social media for the crew.

Exploring an Asteroid Without Leaving Earth

Researchers on the outside will collect data on team dynamics, conflict resolution and the effects of isolation.

This is the third in a set of missions planned in the simulator, with each one longer and more complex than the previous one.

And sure, the pod stays in a building at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, but it's a simulation of being in space. Still pretty awesome.