Anticipating glitches ahead of NASA Mars mission

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New York, Feb 18 (IANS) Researchers are developing a predictive model to help NASA anticipate conflicts and communication breakdowns among crew members and tick off problems that may make or break the Mission to Mars.

NASA has formalised plans to send a manned mission to Mars, a journey that could involve 250 million miles of travel on a small spacecraft.

To understand the psychological demands of this Mars journey, Northwestern University has charted a multi-phase study conducted in two analog environments — HERA in the Johnson Space Center in Houston and the SIRIUS Mission in the NEK analog located in the Institute for Bio-Medical Problems (IBMP) in Russia.

The varsity will study the behaviour of analog astronaut crews on mock missions, complete with isolation, sleep deprivation, specially designed tasks and mission control, which mimics real space travel with delayed communication.

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“Astronauts are super humans. They are people who are incredibly physically fit and extremely smart,” said Leslie DeChurch, Professor at Northwestern.

“We’re taking an already state-of-the-art crew selection system and making it even better by finding the values, traits and other characteristics that will allow NASA to compose crews that will get along,” DeChurch added.

HERA’s capsule simulator houses astronauts for up to 45 days — a mock mission control outside the capsule — that augments the realism with sound effects, vibrations and communication delays.

Those on the inside undergo sleep deprivation and try to perform tasks. The researchers collect moment-to-moment metrics about individual performance, moods, psychosocial adaptation and more.

According to results from the first eight analog space crews, presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Washington, D.C., the astronauts are able to successfully complete tasks between 20 and 60 per cent of the time.

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The next phase of the research, which began on February 15, involves using the model to predict breakdowns and problems a new HERA crew will experience and making changes to “who works with whom, on what, and when”.

The experiment on the SIRIUS analog in Moscow, will begin on March 15, where four Russians and two Americans, will undertake a 120-day fictional mission around the moon, including a moon landing operation.

–IANS

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