The 18th Human Exploration Research Analog four member crew leaves mock spacecraft after 45 days in isolation

HOUSTON, TX, May 07, 2019 /24-7PressRelease/ — Gracie Porter got the best ninth birthday present ever – her dad, Ian Porter, “returned” from his mission aboard the Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA). After hugs and happy tears, the crew and the welcoming crowd all sang Happy Birthday to Gracie as she clung to her dad, whom she had not seen in over 45 days.

HERA, located at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, is a ground-based analog used by NASA’s Human Research Program (HRP) to study the effects of isolation and confinement on the human body, without leaving Earth. A spaceflight analog is a simulated environment that produces physical and mental effects similar to those experienced in space. This research will help NASA better understand the hazards of human spaceflight with the goal of sending astronauts safely to the Moon and onto Mars.

This mission, known as HERA XVIII, is the first mission in Campaign 5. It began on February 15 with crewmembers Sara Edwards of Chicago, Illinois; Rod Borgie of San Diego, California; Ian Porter of Pensacola, Florida; and Dustin Wallace of Norfolk, Virginia. Their simulated mission was to Phobos, the larger of Mars’s two moons. The mission was completed on April 1.

Spending 45 days in a habitat smaller than an average apartment is challenging, but this crew had a variety of reasons to participate in such an experience. “We were able to provide a multitude of data that will ultimately be used for astronauts in deep-space in the coming decades. The idea of being in an environment that is as close as you can get to being on a space mission is truly exciting”, Wallace said. All of the crew agreed and Borgie added, “Meeting the folks here at NASA and learning a lot about myself, relationships with others, and being part of the Human Research Program is very fascinating to me. I’m excited to have had this opportunity.”

One of the biggest changes from previous HERA campaigns for Campaign 5 is the incorporation of reduced privacy. The sleep quarters have only cargo netting instead of a wall, and the hygiene module has a curtain rather than a door. There is also less overall usable volume inside the habitat. Reducing the privacy and space was intended to better mimic the living quarters of future vehicles traveling beyond low Earth orbit.

All of the crewmembers agreed that seeing their family and friends was first on their list when they “landed” back on Earth. Borgie said he wanted to, “kiss my wife and give my kids, Andrew, Emma, and Jonathan, a big hug.” Ian Porter knew it would be Gracie’s birthday and she was on his mind. “The first thing I want to do is hug my kids and kiss my wife,” he said.

But, aside from friends and family, what did they miss about the outside world? Porter said he missed simple things; “Being able to drive, riding a bicycle, feeling the rays from the sun, and naturally hydrated foods are some of the things I miss.” Edwards also missed being able to run outside in spring-like weather, and Borgie missed surfing and the sound of the ocean.

Ultimately, HERA missions are about science. So what did this crew do for science and future human space exploration? In addition to observing the team dynamics with less privacy, the crew performed many scientific experiments.

“We gauged the growth of lettuce in a commercial hydroponic system,” Edwards said. “We looked at it over time to see how well it would hold up throughout our mission . . . did it stay healthy or did it get a disease?” she said.

Visiting Phobos is the main scenario of the HERA Campaign 5 missions. Mission Specialist 1 and Mission Specialist 2 formed the extravehicular activity (EVA) team who explored Phobos in a Virtual Reality (VR) environment including collecting samples. The Commander and Flight Engineer performed the duties of piloting the spacecraft. “Our primary job was to get our spacewalkers from Point A to Point B on the moon,” the Commander explained. Teamwork is crucial for all human missions, whether in space or on Earth.

“Our mission helps prove the point that getting a team together and working ahead of time will add to the success of acquiring real samples on the Moon and Mars later,” Borgie explained.

This HERA analog project is helping NASA better understand the effects that spaceflight poses to the human body and mind. By studying people on Earth in analog environments, it brings NASA one step closer to sending humans safely to the Moon and Mars. Gracie may one day follow in her dad’s footsteps, continuing to pave the way for human space exploration.

HERA Mission XIX will begin in late May 2019 followed by two more Campaign 5 missions.

The JSC Test Subject Screening group is accepting resumes for healthy, non-smoking volunteers, ages 30 to 55 for future missions. Volunteers will be compensated and must pass a physical and psychological assessment to qualify.

Volunteers wishing to become test subjects should visit the website for more information: https://herastudy.jsc.nasa.gov/apply

NASA’s Human Research Program (HRP) is dedicated to discovering the best methods and technologies to support safe, productive human space travel. HRP enables space exploration by reducing the risks to astronaut health and performance using ground research facilities, the International Space Station, and analog environments. This leads to the development and delivery of an exploration biomedical program focused on: informing human health, performance, and habitability standards; the development of countermeasures and risk mitigation solutions; and advanced habitability and medical support technologies. HRP supports innovative, scientific human research by funding more than 300 research grants to respected universities, hospitals, and NASA centers to over 200 researchers in more than 30 states.

Monica Edwards
Laurie Abadie
NASA Human Research Strategic Communications


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