Human analog missions
Human analog missions are activities undertaken on Earth in various environments to simulate aspects of human missions to other worlds, including the Moon, asteroids, and Mars. These remote field tests are performed in locations that are identified based on their physical similarities to the extreme space environments of a target mission. Such activities are undertaken to test hardware and operational concepts in relevant environments.
Obviously no analog can simulate all aspects of a human space mission here on Earth. That is why a wide array of analog activities are necessary, each testing only a few important concepts and/or hardware elements at a time.
- Desert Research and Technology Studies (D-RATS) - This NASA-funded program tests hardware, such as rover prototypes, and operations concepts, like sample-collection techniques, in the Arizona desert every fall.
- Pavilion Lake Research Project (PLRP) - This is a joint project between the Canadian Space Agency and NASA which conducts research on Pavilion Lake and others in British Columbia, Canada to explain the origin of freshwater microbialites, as well as to test operational concepts for deep space missions. While the lake is not a close physical analog to the Moon or Mars or an asteroid, the complex operations of the field team and back room in dealing with communications, power, safety, science, etc., make the project an excellent operational analog.
- NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) - This NASA-funded program utilizes the Aquarius habitat, owned by NOAA and operated by the University of North Carolina Wilmington, to simulate operations in a challenging low-gravity environment. Groups of "aquanauts" live in Aquarius for up to three weeks at a time, performing EVAs around the habitat and the nearby coral reef.
- Arctic Mars Analog Svalbard Expedition (AMASE) - This NASA-funded annual expedition uses various field sites on the Svalbard archipelago (Norway) because these sites are thought to be analogous to sites on ancient Mars. These sites provide an excellent opportunity to test hardware and instruments to assist in detection and characterization of low levels of microbiota and organic and mineralogical biomarkers.
- Mars Analogue Research Station Program (MARS) - This project, run by the Mars Society, includes stations at Devon Island in the Arctic (FMARS) (see also HMP) and Southern Utah (MDRS). Multinational teams live and work at the stations for two to four weeks conducting simulated missions and science experiments, testing hardware and operational concepts.
- Haughton Mars Project (HMP) - This project on Devon Island in the Arctic is run jointly by SETI and the Mars Society. The project utilizes the Mars-like features of the Island and the impact crater to develop and test new technologies and field operating procedures, and to study the human dynamics which result from extended contact in close quarters.
- Mars-500 - This analog, located at the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP) in Moscow, Russia, placed a multinational crew of six into a spacecraft mock-up for a 520 day simulated mission to Mars. Their goal was to understand the psychological implications of long duration spaceflight.