NASA Will Pay You to Travel to Mars...Without Leaving Earth

For four individuals, living in a simulation will become reality

NASA simulator mission

Courtesy of ICON

If you have aspirations to travel to Mars one day, well, we're not quite there yet. There's still quite a jump to be made from today's fledgling space tourism industry (you know, the one with all the billionaires) before we get to tourist trips to the Red Planet. But there is a new opportunity to see if you have the right stuff for the adventure. NASA is hiring four people to live out a Mars mission simulation right here on Earth. The catch? You and three others will have to live in a 1,700-foot habitat for an entire breaks allowed.

NASA uses analog missions—that is, Earth-based simulations—to prepare for future space missions, using them for testing new technology and studying human behavior. As the agency says, "[s]pace is a dangerous, unfriendly place," which is why it likes to try things out on Earth in a far safer (and cheaper) manner.

Currently, NASA is involved with some 14 analog missions worldwide, from three-week stays in the world's only undersea research laboratory to isolation experiments on the world's largest uninhabited island, Devon Island in Canada.

This upcoming series of three Mars-esque missions, deemed Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog (CHAPEA), isn't located anywhere too extreme, though. The four analog astronauts chosen for each assignment will be living in Houston in a 1,700-square-foot 3D-printed structure designed to emulate a potential Mars habitat called Mars Dune Alpha. Though it doesn't have a large footprint, it does have living space, workspace, and recreation space, as well as an area for growing crops (paging Mark Watney!).

“The analog is critical for testing solutions to meet the complex needs of living on the Martian surface,” Grace Douglas, lead scientist for NASA’s Advanced Food Technology research effort at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said in a statement. “Simulations on Earth will help us understand and counter the physical and mental challenges astronauts will face before they go.”

Not only will the analog astronauts have to live in the tiny space for a year, but they'll also have to complete tasks just like astronauts who will travel to Mars, such as spacewalks and scientific research projects. And they'll have to deal with the same stressors, from communications delays (it takes anywhere from five to 20 minutes for messages to be relayed between Earth and Mars) to equipment failures.

As such, not just anyone will be selected for the analog mission. Applicants to the program must be non-smoking U.S. citizens or permanent residents between 30 and 55. And, more importantly, they must meet NASA's astronaut candidate criteria, which typically includes having an advanced degree in a STEM field or test-pilot experience.

If you're interested in (and qualified for) this first mission, which is scheduled to begin in fall 2022, head to NASA's CHAPEA application site to shoot your shot.