What is CHAPEA?

If humans were to set up home on another planet, scientists say. Mars is our best bet. The interest in sending humans to Mars has never been greater, as many space agencies-private and government-funded - are developing their own human spaceflight to Mars. The U.S. space agency NASA is developing the capabilities needed to send humans to the Red Planet in the 2030s. While Russia plans to send humans in the 2040s, China hopes to do so by 2033. The UAE. a new entrant to space exploration, plans to put a human settlement on Mars within the next 100 years. Mars One and SpaceX also have their eyes set on Mars in the coming decades.

But the question is ‘What is it like to live on Mars?’ To answer that scientists have been recreating Mars-like habitats on Earth! Called Mars analogue habitats, they help prepare astronauts, engineers, and researchers for the future challenges of sending a crewed mission to the Red Planet

NASA has recently set up similar facilities called CHAPEA (short for Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog) inside its Johnson Space Center in Houston and has invited volunteers with certain qualifications to become crew members at these habitats. What's CHAPEA? What's its purpose?

CHAPEA is a series of analogue missions that will simulate year-long stays on the surface of Mars. Each mission will consist of four crew members living in Mars Dune Alpha, an isolated 1.700 square foot habitat. According to the NASA website, the 3D printed habitat will include private crew quarters, a kitchen, and dedicated areas for medical, recreation, fitness, work, and crop growth activities, as well as a technical work area and two bathrooms. Such a 3D-printed home has been prefered because it is likely that future habitats used during space exploration on Mars will be 3D-printed to prevent the need for launching large, heavy building materials.

What will the CHAPEA crew members do?

During the mission, the crew will conduct simulated spacewalks and provide data on a variety of factors, which may include physical and behavioural health and performance. They will consume ready-to-eat space food and will try to grow plants. The paid volunteers will try to survive with limited communications back home, restricted resources and equipment failures. Exercising, hygiene activities, maintenance work and science work are some of the other activities planned for the volunteers.

What is the purpose of this analogue?

Researchers will analyse the social and teamwork dynamics of the crew. The programme will be critical in understanding how trained individuals will perform under the rigours and pressures of a Mars mission.

Specifically, it will not only highlight operational challenges, but will also illuminate the physical and mental health challenges that future astronauts may encounter in long-duration space missions.

When will the project begin?

NASA is planning three of these experiments with the first one starting in the fall next year (September 2022).

Where were some of the past Mars analogue habitats located?

  • The Mars Society, a space advocacy group established the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station (FMARS) in 2000 in the territory of Nunavut, Canada. FMARS Crew 11 remained in the Martian simulation for 100 days.
  • It set up its second habitat in Utah, whose crew members focussed on conducting field research in simulated Martian conditions.
  • The Mars-500 mission was a series of experiments conducted between 2007 and 2011 and sponsored by Russia, the European Space Agency, and China. Unlike other Mars Analog missions, Mars-500 did not take place in a Mars-like environment, but in a Moscow research institute. An important focus of the Mars-500 research was the diagnosis of "adverse personal dynamics” which would affect cooperation among the crew.

How I can humans live on Mars, if they were to settle there?

Compared to other planets, Mars has its advantages when it comes to human habitation. It is the closest planet to Earth. Its soil contains water and there is enough sunlight to use solar panels Human body can adapt to the gravity on Mars, which is 38% that of Earth's, and day-length in Mars is similar to that of Earth. However, humans cannot live on Mars like they do on Earth

 

Mars has no oxygen in its atmosphere and it is very cold on its surface - the average temperature of Earth is about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, while the average temperature on Mars is minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit. There's also virtually no air pressure. Mars temperature variations often result in powerful dust storms. Though these storms probably wouldn't physically harm us, the dust could dog electronics and interfere with solar powered instruments.

So, to survive on Mars, humans will need special equipment and pressurised and heated habitats. The habitats are to be self-sustaining sealed against the thin atmosphere, and capable of supporting life for extended periods of time. Humans will also need a spacesuit whenever they go outside the habitat. Despite wearing a suit, radiation from space could ham the human settlers.

For a longer stay, humans will have to figure out how to extract water from underground supplies, and how to produce their own food Scientists believe that we could sustain life there by producing food under artificial light and growing genetically modified plants Space companies are already designing prototypes of habitation humans will need to survive on Mars.

Here are some of the basic facts that astronomers have learnt about the planet over the years.

  • Mars, the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System, is an icy desert. It has two moons Phobos and Deimos.
  • It is half the size of Earth, and gets its name the Red Planet because iron minerals in its soil oxidise or rust thereby making its surface and atmosphere look red.
  • One Martian year is 687 Earth days.
  • Mars has seasons and weather patterns. It has polar ice caps, canyons and even dead volcanoes. It has a very thin atmospheric layer.
  • Mars, at the farthest point of its orbit, is about 400 million kilometres, from Earth, and 55 million kilometres at the nearest point.

Picture Credit : Google

Which asteroid and dwarf planet located between Mars and Jupiter?

Dwarf planet Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and it's the only dwarf planet located in the inner solar system. It was the first member of the asteroid belt to be discovered when Giuseppe Piazzi spotted it in 1801.

Although it—and the next two asteroids discovered, Pallas and Juno—is located near the distance predicted by Bode’s law for the “missing” planet between Mars and Jupiter, most asteroids found subsequently are not so located, and so the agreement with that “law” appears to be coincidental.

Ceres’ shape and density are consistent with a two-layer model of a rocky core surrounded by a thick ice mantle. Ceres rotates once in 9.1 hours. Compositionally, the asteroid’s surface resembles the carbonaceous chondrite meteorites. Water vapour, the first detected in the asteroid belt, escapes into space when Ceres is closest to the Sun.

Ceres was designated a dwarf planet, a new category of solar system objects defined in August 2006 by the International Astronomical Union. (For a discussion of that decision, see planet.) The U.S. space probe Dawn studied the dwarf planet from March 2015 to November 2018. Dawn observed two very bright spots, Cerealia Facula and Vinalia Faculae, in Occator crater on Ceres.

Credit : Britannica

Picture Credit : Google

How did Earth get its gravity?

All objects with a mass attract one another, whether they are tiny particles, humans or planets. The irresistible force that draws them towards each other because of their mass is called gravity. But it is a very weak force: the attractive gravitational force between you and your friend when you are standing next to each other is one billion times smaller than that needed for you to lift your friend. As a consequence, you don't feel this force. But as Earth is much more massive than your friend, you do feel its gravitational attraction. This is what holds you to the ground makes objects fall down and also keeps the Moon revolving around us. Earth actually formed from many smaller asteroids, dust and gas particles that attracted each other gravitationally over millions of years until they finally grouped together to form our planet. Earth's gravity results from this accumulated mass.

Picture Credit : Google

What is a dwarf planet?

According to the International Astronomical Union (IAU), a dwarf planet is a celestial body that is in orbit around a star: massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity: but has not cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit, and is not natural satellite.

The key difference between a planet and a dwarf planet is that a dwarf planet has not become gravitationally dominant enough to clear the neighbourhood around its orbit. In other words, it shares its orbital space with other celestial bodies of similar size. There are five recognised dwarf planets in our solar system - Pluto, Ceres, Haumea, Makemake and Eris. Pluto was earlier classified as a planet, but it was stripped of its status in 2006, when the IAU formalised the definition of a planet and a dwarf planet. Pluto orbits in a disc-like zone beyond the orbit of Neptune called the Kuiper Belt, a region populated with frozen bodies left over from the solar system's formation.

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How many planets are in our solar system?

PLANETS

Hurtling around the Sun are eight planets. Those closest to the Sun - Mercury, Venus, our home planet Earth, and Mars - are made of rock. The vast outer planets - Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune - are called “gas planets” because all we see of them is their gas. All eight travel in the same direction around the Sun. The time taken to make one circuit, or orbit, increases with distance. Mercury takes just 88 Earth days to orbit, while Neptune’s longer journey takes 164.8 Earth years.

  1. JUPITER: The largest and most massive planet, Jupiter is also the fastest spinner, rotating once on its own axis in less than 10 hours. This giant world is made mainly of hydrogen and helium, with a central rocky core. A thin faint ring encircles Jupiter, which also has a large family of moons.
  2. SATURN: Sixth from the Sun, and second largest, is pale yellow Saturn. Its distinctive feature is its ring system, which is made of billions of pieces of dirty water ice. Saturn is mainly hydrogen and helium with a rocky core. It has a large family of moons.
  3. URANUS: Nineteen times the distance of Earth from the Sun, Uranus is a cold, turquoise world bounded by a layer of haze. A sparse ring system encircles the planet’s equator. Uranus is tilted on its side, so that its rings and moons seem to orbit it from top to bottom.
  4. MERCURY: Mercury is a dry ball of rock, covered by millions of impact craters. It is the smallest planet, the closest to the Sun, and has the widest temperature range of any planet. During the day it is baking hot, but at night it is freezing cold.
  5. VENUS: Second from the Sun, Venus is the hottest planet. This rock world is permanently covered by thick cloud that traps heat and makes it a gloomy planet.
  6. NEPTUNE: Neptune is the most distant, coldest, and windiest of all eight planets. Like Uranus, it is made mainly of water-, methane-, and ammonia ices with an atmosphere of hydrogen- rich gas. It is encircled by a thin ring system and has a family of moons.
  7. MARS: Sometimes called the “red planet”, Mars is the outermost of the rocky planets and a cold, dry world. It has polar ice caps, giant volcanoes, frozen desert, and deep canyons, formed in the distant past. Mars has also two small moons.
  8. EARTH: The only place known to have life is Earth, the largest of the rocky planets and third from the Sun. It is also the only planet with liquid water. Movements in Earth’s crust are constantly changing its surface. Earth has one moon.
  9. DWARF PLANETS: The Solar System has five known dwarf planets - small, roundish objects that orbit the Sun amongst other objects. Ceres orbits between Mars and Jupiter within a belt of rocky asteroids, while Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris are icy worlds that orbit beyond Neptune in a region called the Kuiper Belt.

PLANET SCALES Jupiter, fifth planet from the Sun, is much larger than all the other planets. It measures 142,984 km (88,846 miles) across and is made of about two and a half times as much material as all the other planets put, together. The seven other planets and the dwarf planets are shown here roughly to scale.

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