An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian:
Red sand shifts under the boots of the crew members. In the distance, it appears that a rocky mountain range is rising out of the Martian horizon. A thin layer of red dust coats the solar panels and equipment necessary for the year-long mission. This landscape isn’t actually 145m miles away. We are in a corner of the Nasa Johnson Space Center in Houston, in a large white warehouse right next to the disc golf course and on the tram route for tourists and school groups. But starting this June, four volunteer test subjects will spend a year locked inside, pretending to live on Mars. Nasa researchers say they’re doing everything they can to make it as realistic as possible so they can learn the impact that a year in isolation with limited resources has on human health. “As we move from low Earth orbit, from moon to Mars, we’re going to have a lot more resource restrictions than we have on the International Space Station and we’re going to be a lot further from Earth or any help from Earth,” said Dr Grace Douglas, the principal investigator for the Crew Health Performance Exploration Analog, or Chapea for short.
The four crew members will live in a small housing unit that was constructed using a huge 3D printer to simulate how Nasa may create structures on the Martian surface with Martian soil. They’ll conduct experiments, grow food and exercise — and be tested regularly so scientists can learn what a year on Mars could do to the body and mind. “This is really an extreme circumstance,” said Dr Suzanne Bell, who leads the Behavioral Health and Performance Laboratory at the Nasa Johnson Space Center. “You’re asking for individuals to live and work together for over a one-year period. Not only will they have to get along well, but they’ll also have to perform well together.”
Watching four people spend a year in a 3D-printed box is Nasa’s next small step toward landing humans on the surface of Mars. Nasa says it hopes to send humans to the red planet as early as the 2030s. The first mission could be a nine-month trip one-way, and could leave the astronauts on the surface for two and a half years before starting the long trip back home. Preparations for that trek are already well under way with the agency’s Artemis program. Artemis is sending astronauts back to the Moon for the first time since 1972, including the first person of color and woman to walk on another celestial body. As part of the Artemis missions, Nasa is also launching Gateway, a space station that will orbit the Moon and serve as a pit stop for Mars-bound missions. Getting to the Moon means getting to Mars, and getting to Mars means testing the physical and behavioral health of a crew in isolation. That’s where Chapea comes in.