NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston has unveiled a virtual Mars habitat where four non-astronaut volunteers will spend a year preparing for human missions. The 160-square-meter habitat simulates Martian environmental constraints and allows the crew to work with limited resources, be isolated, and experience equipment failures. Volunteers will do simulated spacewalks, robotics, exercise, habitat care, and crop planting. NASA’s Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog program 3D-printed the habitat.

Mars Dune Alpha
A working area is seen inside the Mars Dune Alpha, NASA’s simulated Mars habitat, being used as preparations for sending humans to the Red Planet, at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, U.S. April 11, 2023. (REUTERS/Go Nakamura)

First, let’s discuss,


In a recent showcase, NASA presented a simulated Mars environment where a team of four volunteers will reside for a year. The project helps the US space agency prepare for human spaceflight. In June, a group of non-astronaut volunteers is set to enter a specialized environment known as a habitat. NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston has constructed a significant research facility.

According to a recent NASA announcement, 4 crew members will participate in numerous activities. These astronauts will be participating in a variety of activities and tasks during their space expedition. These activities include simulated spacewalks, robotic work, habitat maintenance, exercise, and crop cultivation.

Crew quarter inside the Mars
A Crew quarter is seen inside the Mars Dune Alpha. (REUTERS/Go Nakamura)

The lead researcher of the CHAPEA experiments Grace Douglas says: “CHAPEA was developed as a one-year Mars surface simulation with the intent that we can have crew in isolation and confinement with Mars-realistic restrictions,” Moreover, she said: “That is one of the technologies that NASA is looking at as a potential to build habitat on other planetary or lunar surfaces,” 

Now, let’s dig into,

The architecture of the isolated environment:

Scientists have developed a 160-square-meter habitat that simulates the environmental pressures that could be encountered by future visitors to Mars. The habitat simulates Mars’ harsh conditions to give visitors a taste of living there.  NASA has announced that they will be conducting activities with limited resources, experiencing equipment failures, and being isolated. These challenges will be faced as part of their ongoing efforts to explore space.

The pretend Mars house was made using 3D printers, which are machines that can print out 3D objects layer by layer. People have been using 3D printers to make bigger things, like entire houses!

simulated Mars habitat
(REUTERS/Go Nakamura)

NASA’s latest endeavor, the Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog (CHAPEA), includes the Mars habitat as one of its integral components. The upcoming project is set to feature a trio of simulated environments.

Now some might be wondering what is the,

The Motive of NASA CHAPEA:

Even though NASA is preparing to send people to Mars. They’re focusing on returning people to the Moon after 50 years! NASA will monitor volunteers’ health in the Mars habitat.

simulated Martian environment
Plant pods to grow vegetables are seen inside NASA’s simulated Mars habitat, being used as preparations for sending humans to the Red Planet, at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, U.S. April 11, 2023. (REUTERS/Go Nakamura)

“And we can really start to understand how those restrictions are associated with their health and performance over that year.”  Douglas says.

The simulated Mars environment features an outdoor area that emulates the planet’s surface and surroundings while remaining within the confines of the habitat. NASA will pick individuals with strong scientific, technological, engineering, and math skills using the same criteria as astronauts.  The identities of the volunteers for the initial experiment have not been disclosed yet. Furthermore, those who are interested in participating must be within the age range of 30 to 55, exhibit good physical health, and have no issues with dietary restrictions or motion sickness. Former Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield shared his views with The Associated Press in 2021, stating that these requirements indicate that NASA is seeking individuals who possess qualities similar to those of astronauts, which in turn will enhance the overall quality of the experiment.


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NASA’s CHAPEA Project is an exciting development that will help pave the way for human exploration of Mars. The objective of the CHAPEA project is to create a simulation of a Mars habitat that can sustain long-duration space missions. To accomplish this, NASA has partnered with ICON Technology, Inc. to create a 3D-printed habitat called Mars Dune Alpha. Moreover, the structure is designed to simulate the harsh conditions of the red planet and will host three different crews for one-year missions. NASA will use the insights and information gathered during these missions. It will use to ensure the well-being and success of future astronauts living and working on Mars. This is a significant milestone for humanity’s pursuit of space exploration and a giant leap toward our ultimate goal of colonizing other planets.

So, if you don’t know about this project, don’t worry; First, you should know:

What is NASA’s CHAPEA Mars Habitat Project?

NASA’s CHAPEA (Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog) project aims to create a 3D-printed habitat that simulates a realistic Mars habitat to support long-duration, exploration-class space missions. Architecture firm BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) designed the Mars Dune Alpha structure. They completed it using the Vulcan construction system which spans over 1,700 square feet. It is located at Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas. Hence it equipped itself with private crew quarters. It includes a kitchen, medical facilities, areas for recreation and fitness, workstations, crop-growing stations, and two bathrooms.

CHAPEA Mars Habitat Project

To satisfy the functional requirements of a Mars habitat, the structure’s layout is designed in a gradient of privacy, with shared recreation and living spaces between four private crew quarters, dedicated workstations, and food-growing stations. To enhance the technology readiness of multiple technology gaps related to additive construction for pressurized surface habitats. The habitat includes modular flooring and outfitting elements for the interior and Earth-brought elements like airlocks, hatches, etc a medical pass-through window.

Moreover, come to the discussion of the background:


NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) initiated 2020, the Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog (CHAPEA) project. The project aimed to simulate a realistic Mars habitat that could support long-duration, exploration-class space missions. To accomplish this, ICON Technology, Inc. was awarded a subcontract through Jacobs. To deliver a 3D-printed habitat known as Mars Dune Alpha. The project was located at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. ICON utilized the innovative Vulcan construction system. It allowed them to complete a 1,700-square-foot structure designed by the renowned architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). The design incorporated various features to simulate a realistic Martian environment. Such as isolation from Earth, limited resources, and harsh weather conditions. The structure aimed to serve as a blueprint for designing habitats on the red planet.

Similarly, here is a point;

What is CHAPEA?

The CHAPEA project team consisted of several experts, including Calvin Glasgow and Michael Gauthier as Principle Project Managers, Bungane Mehlomakulu as MEP and Building Science Manager, Caleb Mann as Director of Build Operations, and Jason Ballard as CEO of ICON. Additionally, there were numerous ICON team members, including myself as the Director of Architecture. The architect of record was Bjarke Ingels Group, with Lead Architects Julian Ocampo Salazar and Stephanie Mauer. The engineer of record was Fort Structures. The project was a significant milestone for the exploration of Mars and represented a giant leap in humanity’s pursuit of space exploration. The CHAPEA project is anticipated to begin one-year-long analog missions in the fall of 2022. Hence, it will provide invaluable data for the development of long-duration space missions.

Also, you need to know,

What is the Mars Dune Alpha?

NASA’s CHAPEA features Mars Dune Alpha. ICON Technology, Inc. has recently completed the construction of a 3D-printed habitat known as Mars Dune Alpha. It will also serve as an analog to a realistic Mars habitat for long-duration, exploration-class space missions. The renowned architecture firm BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) designed this habitat. He utilizes it to provide astronauts with a living and working space. And it simulates the conditions they are likely to encounter on Mars. Scientists have specially designed the layout of the Mars Dune Alpha habitat to ensure that separate areas are available for both living and working. The habitat’s interiors have been constructed to provide a realistic representation of the living conditions that astronauts can expect to encounter on Mars.

Mars Dune Alpha


The primary objective of constructing a 3D-printed habitat

Moreover, the primary objective of constructing a 3D-printed habitat is to eliminate the need for large quantities of building materials to be launched on multiple flights, which is cost prohibitive. Using additive construction technology enables future space exploration settlements to be constructed using locally available resources on Mars. The Mars Dune Alpha habitat will host three crews, each consisting of four individuals and two alternates, for one-year missions. During their time in the habitat,  astronomers will observe and study the crew to provide valuable insights and information for NASA. Scientists will use this information to assess NASA’s space food system and the physical and behavioral health and performance outcomes for future space missions.

The research conducted in the Mars Dune Alpha habitat will be crucial in understanding the risks and resources. Hence, it required itself to support crew health and performance during extended-duration missions on Mars. NASA also plans to use the information obtained from this project to inform risk and resource trades for future missions. It ensures the well-being and success of astronauts living and working on Mars.

Now, you probably might be wondering,

What is the purpose of CHAPEA?

The primary goal of NASA’s CHAPEA is to simulate year-long stays on the surface of Mars. Along with three different crews consisting of four individuals in the Mars Dune Alpha habitat during analog missions. To obtain the most accurate data during the analog, the scientists have designed a habitat to be as Mars-realistic as feasible. Along with environmental stressors such as resource limitations, isolation, and equipment failure, it includes significant workloads.

Purpose of CHAPEA

The analog missions provide valuable insights and information to assess NASA’s space food system. Along with physical and behavioral health, and performance outcomes for future space missions. Major crew activities during the analog may consist of simulated spacewalks. It includes virtual reality, communications, crop growth, meal preparation and consumption, exercise, hygiene activities, maintenance work, personal time, science work, and sleep. NASA will use research from the Mars Dune Alpha habitat to inform risk and resource trades to support crew health and performance. As while living on Mars during an extended mission.


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After it began the construction of the first mars sample depot took less than six weeks to complete its mission. At Southern California in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the mission controllers received confirmation that the Perseverance Mars rover successfully dropped the 10th and final tube planned for the depot around 5 p.m. PST (8 p.m. EST) Sunday, Jan. 29.

How is this going to help in the research of Mars?

This big achievement was all thanks to precise planning and navigation. This ensures that the tubes could be safely returning back in the future. The NASA-ESA (European Space Agency) Mars rover Sample Return campaign, aims to bring samples from Mars to Earth. This will be very essential for closer examination. Which is going to help in studying Mars’s habitat.

The Perseverance rover’s WATSON camera took this image. It is the 10th and last tube to be deployed during the creation of the first mars sample depot on another world, on Jan. 28, 2023, the 690th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

During its science campaigns, the rover has collected a pair of samples from rocks regarded as scientifically substantial by the mission team. Scientists have stored one sample from each pair in the organized depot in the “Three Forks” region of Jezero Crater. The depot samples serve as backup. The other half remains inside Perseverance.

One sample from each pair collected thus far is now stored in the nicely organized depot in the “Three Forks” region of Jezero Crater. The Mars sample depot samples will be very useful as a backup set. While the other half will be kept inside Perseverance. This will be the primary means of transporting samples to a Sample Retrieval Lander as part of the campaign.

According to mission scientists, the igneous and sedimentary rock cores will be very beneficial. It will provide an excellent sample of the geologic processes that occurred in Jezero shortly after the crater’s formation about 4 billion years ago.

The rover also left an atmospheric sample and a “witness” tube. This will help to see if the samples being collected are contaminated with materials carried by the rover from Earth.

The “Witness” tube!

The titanium tubes are put on the surface in an intricate zigzag pattern. Each sample spaces about 15 to 50 feet (5 to 15 meters) apart to ensure a safe return. The team must precisely map the location of each 7-inch-long (18.6-centimeter-long) tube and glove (adapter) combination. So that the samples could be found even if covered in dust. However, this was time-consuming in the depot-creation process. On the flat ground near the base of an ancient river delta. This was formed long ago when a river flowed into a lake where the Mars sample depot is located.

Passing the Rocky Top outcrop marks the end of the rover’s Delta Front Campaign because of the geologic transition that occurs at that level. And also the beginning of the rover’s Delta Top Campaign.

Curvilinear Unit:

One of the first stops the Mars rover will make during the new science campaign will be at a location  “Curvilinear Unit” by the science team. The unit, which is essentially a Martian sandbar, is made of sediment that was deposited ages ago in a bend in one of Jezero’s inflowing river channels. The science team believes the Curvilinear Unit will be an excellent location for searching for intriguing sandstone and possibly mudstone outcrops, as well as gaining insight into the geological processes occurring beyond the walls of Jezero Crater.

This map shows where NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover dropped 10 samples so that a future mission could pick them up. After more than five weeks of work, the sample depot was completed Jan. 28, 2023, the 690th day, or sol, of the mission.Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech
This map shows where NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover dropped 10 samples so that a future mission could pick them up. It took more than five weeks of work, the mars sample depot on Jan. 28, 2023, the 690th day, or sol, of the mission.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

What are Rick Welch and Ken Farley’s remarks about this milestone?

Rick Welch is the deputy project manager of JPL. He says that “With the Three Forks depot in our rearview mirror, Perseverance is now headed up the delta,”. Moreover, he said: “We’ll make our ascent via the ‘Hawksbill Gap’ route we previously explored. Once we pass the geologic unit the science team calls ‘Rocky Top,’ we will be in new territory and begin exploring the Delta Top.”

Perseverance project scientist at Caltech “Ken Farley” said: “We found that from the base of the delta up to the level where Rocky Top is located, the rocks appear to have been deposited in a lake environment,”. Moreover, he said: “And those just above Rocky Top appear to have been created in or at the end of a Martian river flowing into the lake. As we ascend the delta into a river setting, we expect to move into rocks that are composed of larger grains – from sand to large boulders. Those materials likely originated in rocks outside Jezero, eroded, and washed into the crater.”


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