Dr. Nathan Jones, an emergency medicine physician from Springfield and an alumnus of SIU School of Medicine, has embarked on a groundbreaking mission with NASA, simulating life on Mars. As the medical officer for CHAPEA (Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog), Dr. Jones is part of a four-member crew residing in a 1,700-square-foot habitat at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. The year-long mission aims to test the team's problem-solving abilities, adaptability, and collaborative skills while living in a 3D-printed dwelling resembling the habitat astronauts might inhabit during an actual Mars mission.
Beyond evaluating the crew's capabilities, the mission serves as a valuable learning opportunity for NASA, providing insights into the challenges and potential solutions for long-duration space exploration. Dr. Jones, known for his passion for problem-solving, believes he is well-suited for the mission. From his early experiences assisting his father, a local optometrist, on medical missions to remote areas of Central America to his career in emergency medicine and medical education, Dr. Jones has consistently demonstrated a commitment to helping others and addressing complex challenges.
During the mission, named CHAPEA, the crew will engage in various activities, including scientific experiments, habitat maintenance, and extra-vehicular missions in a 1,200-square-foot enclosure called "the Sandbox." They will wear customized spacesuits, sometimes equipped with virtual reality goggles to simulate the Martian environment. The crew will consume specially prepared "space food," along with freeze-dried and dehydrated items, while also cultivating crops for mental stimulation and nutrition.
The journey to Mars, which covers approximately 300 million miles, would take around seven months. To simulate the communication delays associated with interplanetary distances, messages between the crew and Earth will be delayed by up to 22 minutes. Dr. Jones anticipates burning a significant amount of calories during the mission to counteract the muscle and bone loss caused by lower gravity environments.While Dr. Jones is excited about the mission, he acknowledges the difficulties his wife, Kacie, and their three sons will face during his 378-day absence.