Life on Mars? Four volunteers spending a YEAR in a fake 'Red Planet'

Life on Mars? Four volunteers are spending a YEAR living in a fake ‘Red Planet’ in Houston – complete with a gym and plush leather sofas (but NO windows!)

  • NASA launched its CHAPEA mission yesterday in a major step towards Mars
  • Four volunteers will spend the next 378 days in a 1,700 square-foot home
  • Here, they will battle Mars-like conditions while conducting mission tests 

While Mars and Earth are similar in many ways, living on the Red Planet would be far from easy.

Dust devils, dangerous radiation and harsh temperatures are among its numerous challenges – and that excludes the complete lack of oxygen. 

But now, four volunteers will battle these for themselves, having entered a Texas-based Mars simulation where they will spend the next year.

NASA launched its ‘CHAPEA’ (Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog) project just yesterday in a major step towards rocketing to Mars.

A four-person crew will now spend 378 days in a 1,700 square-foot home dubbed the ‘Mars Dune Alpha’ equipped with four rooms, a gym and even leather sofas – but no windows. 

The exterior of the CHAPEA home – covered in red sand to simulate Martian conditions

Here, the group of volunteers will conduct an array of ‘mission activities’, such as robotics operations, growing crops and maintaining hygiene amid ‘extraterrestrial’ obstacles.

‘They are about to embark on an analogues mission that encompasses Operation Logistics and research of living and working on Mars. The importance of this study cannot be understated,’ said Judy Hayes, Chief Science Officer of CHAPEA.


  • Four small rooms
  • A gym
  • Two bathrooms
  • Vertical farm
  • Area for relaxing
  • Medical care room
  • Workstations
  • Treadmill
  • Airlock to ‘outdoors’
  • Weather station
  • Brick-making machine
  • Small greenhouse
  • A lot of red sand


‘As the journey unfolds over the coming year, it’s through the stealth of this stellar crew that NASA scientists will learn critical insights on the physical and behavioural aspects of a mission on Mars.’

Microbiologist Anca Selariu, research scientist Kelly Haston, engineer Ross Brockwell and medic Nathan Jones are among the four-person crew in the CHAPEA habitat.

Their new home hosts four small rooms, two bathrooms and a lot of red sand as the US space agency has attempted to replicate Martian conditions.

While you may not expect life on Mars to be luxurious, their living space is also complete with a living area, TVs and several workstations. 

It even has an airlock which leads to an ‘outdoor’ reconstruction of the Martian environment, although this is still located inside the hangar where the facility is housed.

Various pieces of equipment are also scattered around the sandy floor, including a weather station, a brick-making machine and a small greenhouse.

The home is equipped with a treadmill too, on which the volunteer astronauts will walk suspended from straps to simulate Mars’ lesser gravity.

Microbiologist Anca Selariu (pictured left), research scientist Kelly Haston (centre right), engineer Ross Brockwell (centre left) and medic Nathan Jones (far right) are among the four-person crew in the CHAPEA habitat

A recreational area is seen inside the Mars Dune Alpha, complete with leather sofas and a TV

The Martian-like exterior of the Texas-based home where the crew will conduct various tests

One of the working areas within NASA’s Mars Dune Alpha base in Houston, Texas

As the mission goes on, NASA intends to monitor the crew’s physical and mental health to better understand humans’ ability to endure such a long isolation. 

Researchers will regularly test the crew’s response to stressful situations, such as restricting water availability or equipment failures.

NASA’s lead researcher on the project, Grace Douglas, said this data would allow the agency to better understand astronauts’ ‘resource use’ on Mars.

‘We can really start to understand how we’re supporting them with what we’re providing them, and that’s going to be really important information to making those critical resource decisions,’ she said during a previous press tour of the habitat.

Nathan Jones, among the crew, also added on Sunday: ‘Humanity yearns to reach higher than ever before. Metaphorically and physically we seek to climb the highest of mountains.

Lead associate professor of industrial and organizational psychology Suzanne Bell, and advanced food technology lead scientist Grace Douglas speak to members of the media during a previous media tour of the Mars Dune Alpha

The base is equipped with a gym and various machines that can be used for excercise

There is a treadmill on which the volunteer astronauts will walk suspended from straps to simulate Mars’ lesser gravity

The living/dining area inside of CHAPEA’s Mars Dune Alpha where the team will spend a year

The oxygen generator system inside the the Mars Duna Alpha, simulating realistic conditions

The habitat was created for three planned experiments called the Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog (CHAPEA). Pictured is a floor plan for the facility

‘So, we set our sights on a distant tomorrow when we might stand upon mountains such as Olympus Mons which is the tallest mountain in our solar system – as far as I’m aware. That is a mountain on Mars. 

‘But I believe that tomorrow will only be possible because we step into Mars Dune Alpha today.’ 

Another interesting feature about the habitat, which the team have worked on since 2019, is that it is 3D-printed.

This comes at a time when NASA is looking at potential ways to be self-reliant and build habitats on other planetary surfaces. 

Although NASA is currently in the early stages of preparation for a mission to Mars, its primary focus is the upcoming Artemis missions.

These aim to return humans to the moon for the first time in half a century, and will kick off in 2024 with Artemis II  flying around our lunar satellite.

The first woman and first person of colour is set to walk on the Moon’s surface a year later for Artemis III.

NASA plans to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s after first landing on the Moon

Mars has become the next giant leap for mankind’s exploration of space.

But before humans get to the red planet, astronauts will take a series of small steps by returning to the moon for a year-long mission.

Details of a the mission in lunar orbit have been unveiled as part of a timeline of events leading to missions to Mars in the 2030s.

Nasa has outlined its four stage plan (pictured) which it hopes will one day allow humans to visit Mars at he Humans to Mars Summit held in Washington DC yesterday. This will entail multiple missions to the moon over coming decades

In May 2017, Greg Williams, deputy associate administrator for policy and plans at Nasa, outlined the space agency’s four stage plan that it hopes will one day allow humans to visit Mars, as well as its expected time-frame.

Phase one and two will involve multiple trips to lunar space, to allow for construction of a habitat which will provide a staging area for the journey.

The last piece of delivered hardware would be the actual Deep Space Transport vehicle that would later be used to carry a crew to Mars. 

And a year-long simulation of life on Mars will be conducted in 2027. 

Phase three and and four will begin after 2030 and will involve sustained crew expeditions to the Martian system and surface of Mars.

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