Picture this: You’re locked in a 1,700-square-foot space with three other people for 12 months, isolated from the outside world, and the only way out is through virtual reality.

No, it’s not another COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. It’s NASA’s latest Earth-based analog research mission about Mars. The space administration is recruiting crew members for a paid mission that will simulate what it would be like to live on the surface of Mars. 

The Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog, or CHAPEA, is a series of three year-long simulations based at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. NASA is looking for four paid volunteers for each mission to live and work in the Mars Dune Alpha, a 1,700-square-foot module that was 3D-printed by ICON, for 12 months.

“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, said in a press release. “Simulations on Earth will help us understand and counter the physical and mental challenges astronauts will face before they go.”

The Martian habitat will simulate the challenges of living on the lonely red planet, NASA said, including resource limitations, equipment failure, communication delays, isolation, significant workloads and other environmental stressors. So volunteers won’t have to worry about getting too bored…

It doesn’t seem like the selected crew will have much downtime, either, with regular activities such as simulated spacewalks, planting and growing crops, routine maintenance and science work, as well as daily chores like making meals and exercising to stay in astronaut-shape, keeping everyone pretty busy.

So how much does pretending to live on Mars pay? The space agency is keeping the compensation under wraps for now, only saying: “Compensation is available, and more information will be provided during the crew candidate screening process.”

To qualify, the Martian applicants must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents; be between the ages of 30-55; have a master’s degree in a STEM field, have at least two years professional experience in a STEM field or 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time on a jet aircraft; and pass the NASA long-duration flight astronaut physical. Simple enough! 

The selection process will take as long as 13 months, with the first mission set to start in fall 2022. 

It might actually be easier to blast off to the edge of space, as long as you have a spare $450,000 lying around. That’s what one ticket aboard a Virgin Galactic suborbital flight will cost you. The company announced the ticket price last week, as space tourism kicks into gear. Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic’s founder, and former Amazon

CEO Jeff Bezos both took to the stars in July aboard their own spacecrafts.

“As NASA ventures farther into the cosmos, the astronaut experience will change,” NASA said in a press release. But the space administration isn’t the only one with its eye set on our red neighbor. 

Billionaire Elon Musk has long talked about colonizing Mars to save humanity from, as he puts it, “some eventual extinction event” on Earth. 

That extinction event might come sooner than later, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a “code red for humanity” report on Monday. 

“It’s just guaranteed that it’s going to get worse,” report co-author Linda Mearns said. “I don’t see any area that is safe … Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.”

Maybe space it is!

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