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NASA will pay 4 health-conscious 'astronaut-like' people to live inside a Mars simulation for 378 days. See if you qualify.

Morgan McFall-Johnsen   

NASA will pay 4 health-conscious 'astronaut-like' people to live inside a Mars simulation for 378 days. See if you qualify.
  • NASA is recruiting four people to live in a Mars habitat simulation in Houston for 378 days.
  • NASA is looking for crew members who best mimic sending real astronauts to Mars.

NASA is hiring four people to spend 378 days living inside a simulated Mars habitat in Houston.

The experiment is called the Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog (CHAPEA).

We spoke with one of the CHAPEA leads, Suzanne Bell, to figure out just how hard it would be to get selected.

NASA is looking for people who are "as astronaut-like as possible," said Bell, who also leads NASA's Behavioral Health and Performance Lab.

See if you have what it takes.

NASA's Mars simulation needs applicants with STEM or military education

The point of CHAPEA is that it helps NASA study some of the biggest challenges astronauts would face on a mission to Mars: long-term isolation and confinement, as well as a delay in communications with Earth of up to 22 minutes each way.

In almost every way, a cohort of Mars astronauts will be on their own. That's what CHAPEA is trying to replicate.

At the most basic level, to qualify for the program, you must be a healthy US citizen or permanent resident, aged 30 to 55, and proficient in English.

You also need relevant education and experience — like an astronaut.

NASA wants candidates with a master's degree in a STEM field from an accredited institution, plus either two years of experience working in STEM or at least 1,000 hours of jet piloting.

Two other types of experience could put you up for consideration, though:

  • A medical degree, completion of a test pilot program, or two years of working toward a doctoral STEM degree

  • Completed military officer training or a STEM bachelor's degree, plus four years of professional experience working in STEM

The CHAPEA crew must accept strict limitations

In the Mars simulation, for 378 days, you can't go for a walk outside. You can't call your mom. You can't order a pizza. You can't even request that NASA pick up your favorite snack from the grocery store.

"The point is that you'll be in a very small space for a long time," Bell said. "With that comes constraints."

You must also tolerate and work well with your three teammates, just like any professional astronaut. NASA doesn't want explosive arguments about who's doing the dishes.

"We wouldn't want to choose somebody who would have problems getting along with somebody in isolation and confinement, because that doesn't give us very good data," Bell said.

Then there's limited contact with the outside world. It's not just that Mars-astronaut simulators can't spend all day surfing the web. There's also a communication delay between them and everyone else on Earth.

Because of distance, sometimes the fastest that a Mars astronaut could get a response from NASA's mission control (or from a family member or friend) is 44 minutes — 22 minutes to send the message to Earth and another 22 minutes to receive the response.

The same will apply to CHAPEA participants.

NASA's application process will assess for 4 'expeditionary skills'

It's not just experience and stress tolerance that makes a Mars astronaut. NASA will also look for something less tangible — well, four somethings.

NASA wants CHAPEA participants to display what it calls "expeditionary skills":

  • Self-care and team care, which involves monitoring yourself and your teammates for signs of mental and physical fatigue, and knowing when and how to intervene

  • Cultural competency, since astronauts have to work closely together with very high stakes, not to mention represent the US in international collaborations

  • Leadership and followership, and knowing when (and how) to lead and when to follow

  • Teamwork and communication — obviously

"Expeditionary skills are really that important complement to technical experience that we look for and train in our astronaut populations," Bell said.

In the CHAPEA application process, NASA assesses those core traits. Bell wouldn't say how, though.

"I'm not going to disclose too many of our methods, because we're aware that people might want to self-present in a certain way," she said.

The CHAPEA job has health requirements too

CHAPEA crews also need to be healthy with limited medical needs, due to the isolation and resource constraints. There are no doctors on Mars.

Here are the health requirements:

  • Non-smoker

  • No food allergies or avoidances

  • No gastrointestinal disorders

  • Some medications are disqualifiers, such as blood thinners, daily allergy medications, antidepressants, anxiety medications, sleeping aids, or daily insulin.

  • Proof of full COVID-19 vaccination

Applicants must also pass a criminal background check, psychiatric screening, and a medical evaluation. During the year-long CHAPEA experiment, they must exercise regularly on NASA's schedule.

Apply for the paid CHAPEA gig online

If you think you have what it takes, you can apply for CHAPEA online by April 2.

The gig pays, but Bell and a NASA spokesperson both declined to share details on compensation, saying it will be introduced to candidates later in the application process.

Ultimately the pay shouldn't be your motive, Bell said, since this is participation in a scientific research experiment.

"It could be a personal self-challenge: Can I even do this? Or could I be an astronaut? Or could I go to Mars someday? But then there's also the greater good of being able to contribute meaningfully to science, and science that's really going to pave the way to amazing things in the future," Bell said.

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