Life in an earth-bound space pod

Official crew photos for HERA Campaign 4 Mission 5. Photo Date: May 4, 2018. Location: Building 220 – HERA module. Photographer: Robert Markowitz

From May 5 to June 18, 2018, I lived inside an earth-bound NASA capsule known as HERA (Human Exploration Research Analog), which serves as a mission analog capsule for the Human Research Program. It was a bizarre, fascinating, fun, and educational 45 days. I’ve shared some posts about the lead-up to HERA as well as the egress ceremony.  Now I’d like to share about the in-between stuff – the food, the living, the science experiments. I’m sworn to secrecy on certain topics, but I think these pictures and blog give a good representation of LIFE IN A POD. As you look through the pictures, remember that all of these things happened in a tiny habitat, about the size of an RV (~600 square feet). We crammed a lot of activity into a small space.

If you are interested in learning more about HERA, please feel free to contact me or visit https://www.nasa.gov/analogs/hera/

Before we entered the pod, my 3 crew mates and I spent approximately 2 weeks at the Johnson Space Center getting trained up on how to live in the pod and the protocols we would carry out inside.  It was a whirlwind of activity, and the professionalism of everyone involved made it possible and even fun. We even took snazzy photos.

Here is how one packs to live in an RV sized space pod for 45 days.

All my clothes, books, and toiletries for 45 days in HERA, plus our awesome HERA patch

It was impressed upon us terranauts that food as a critical part of space crew happiness and health. I’ve never been to real space, but my understanding is that food tends to taste more bland in space as a side effect of zero gravity. As such, hot sauce was provided in plenty for us, but we didn’t need to use as much because, well, we still had  gravity (or we’re a bunch of wimps about spicy food). Overall, I was impressed with the food items – things like shrimp cocktail, grilled pork chops, scrambled eggs, granola with blueberries. My favorite dinner was the chicken with black beans and corn, served up on tortillas.  My mouth is actually watering as I write that, but who knows, maybe it’s like camping food where it wouldn’t taste as good back home. Everything is individually pre-packaged – It was a bummer to go through so much plastic, but when the shelf life of the food is >3 years, long enough to make it to Mars and back and more, I understand the need.

What did we do with our time?  I break it down into two categories.  First, we did a lot of work tasks which included flight simulations, science experiments, ship maintenance, and performing scientific tests of ourselves. Second, we did normal living things which included eating, playing games, exercising, watching TV, journaling, etc.

The work side of things was interesting and varied, for the most part. Here are some pictures of us at work, starting with the flight simulations.

I won’t bother with too many pictures of laundry and cleaning the bathroom, but here are some pictures of the hydroponic plants, robotic rovers, and other science and non-science work tasks.

The main point of the HERA mission was to evaluate the human biological, physical, and psychological response to isolation and confinement, and to eventually use the results to help improve the lives of astronauts. Therefore, a substantial amount of effort went into analyzing our body chemistry, psyche, neurology, etc. Doing this required sampling blood, urine, and saliva, taking surveys, performing EEGs, among other tests.

Sleep deprivation was a key component of this and other HERA missions.  We were limited to 5 hours per night during the week and 8 hours on the weekend.  We woke up to rock and roll blasted over the intercom system. For a tour on our sleeping arrangement, check out this embarrassing video I made.

We had some time for exercise – it was limited to stationary biking and some weights and yoga.  Here are MS2 and I getting our pumps on.

Lastly, we had time for some fun.  It was hard to tell if there was a lot of free time or not very much, and I think that changed day to day and depending on my mood.  We played a lot of scrabble and charades, watched movies and Fawlty Towers, and had a tradition of dressing up for “Sophisticated Saturday”.

So, hopefully that gives you a taste for the science-filled, goofy life of four terranauts in a space pod. I want to give another huge shout of appreciation to everyone on the HERA support staff, the scientists, and my crew mates, for making the experience safe, enjoyable, and fruitful.

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