Houston Matters

Simulated Space Missions Designed to Push Pseudo-Astronauts to Their Limits

NASA has quietly been taking crews of four on 713-day missions to explore an asteroid. Ok…well, not exactly. Actually, the asteroid is more like a simulated one located firmly on the ground inside a hangar at Johnson Space Center. Instead of real astronauts, the crews are made up of volunteers. And, instead of 700-day missions, […]

The Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) experiment at NASA's Johnson Space Center sends volunteers on simulated missions to an asteroid to test the effects of long missions on humans. (Photo: Bill Stafford and Robert Markowitz, Courtesy: NASA)NASA has quietly been taking crews of four on 713-day missions to explore an asteroid. Ok...well, not exactly.

Actually, the asteroid is more like a simulated one located firmly on the ground inside a hangar at Johnson Space Center. Instead of real astronauts, the crews are made up of volunteers. And, instead of 700-day missions, they're more like 30-day stints spent inside a three-story spacecraft.

It's all for an experiment called Human Exploration Research Analog – or HERA. It's designed to take test subjects – acting as faux astronauts — to their breaking point so researchers can gather data about stress and leadership for the real-life astronauts who one day hope to embark on real deep-space missions.

But how can a space module inside a hangar truly simulate space? And are those involved just playing make-believe? To find out, Paige Phelps spoke to Lisa Spence, HERA's project manager.

(Above: The Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) experiment at NASA’s Johnson Space Center sends volunteers on simulated missions to an asteroid to test the effects of long missions on humans. Photo: Bill Stafford and Robert Markowitz, Courtesy: NASA)

MORE: HERA Mission 10 Crew to "Splashdown" on Wednesday (NASA, May 31, 2016)

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Michael Hagerty

Michael Hagerty

Senior Producer, Houston Matters

Michael Hagerty is the senior producer for Houston Matters. He's spent more than 20 years in public radio and television and dabbled in minor league baseball, spending four seasons as the public address announcer for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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