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Mars Audio Log #6

Season 1Episode 320Jan 26, 2024

The CHAPEA crew gives an update as they hit their halfway mark of their yearlong mission, and human performance scientists discuss exercising in a simulated Mars habitat. This is the sixth audio log of a monthly series. HWHAP Episode 320.

HWHAP ep 320: Mars Audio Log #6

HWHAP Ep. 320: Mars Audio Log #6

From Earth orbit to the Moon and Mars, explore the world of human spaceflight with NASA each week on the official podcast of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Listen to in-depth conversations with the astronauts, scientists and engineers who make it possible.

On episode 320, the CHAPEA crew gives an update as they hit their halfway mark of their yearlong mission, and human performance scientists discuss exercising in a simulated Mars habitat. This is the sixth audio log of a monthly series. Recordings were sent from the CHAPEA crew throughout December 2023 and January 2024. The conversation with Peter Schneider and Alyssa Varanoske was recorded December 19, 2023.

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Host (Gary Jordan): Houston, we have a podcast! Welcome to the official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center, Episode 320, “Mars Audio Log #6.” I’m Gary Jordan, I’ll be your host today. On this podcast, we bring in the experts, scientists, engineers, astronauts, all to let you know what’s going on in the world of human spaceflight and more. We’re back with another audio log from the CHAPEA crew. CHAPEA, or Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog, is a yearlong analog mission in a habitat right here on Earth that is simulating very closely what it would be like to live on Mars. We’re lucky enough to have monthly check-ins with the crew Commander, Kelly Haston; Flight Engineer, Ross Brockwell; Medical Officer, Nathan Jones; and Science Officer, Anca Selariu. To meet the needs of fitting in with this analog and simulating significant communication delays between Earth and Mars, that prohibit us from having a live conversation, the crew is recording an audio log based off of the questions that we draft for them. On this episode, we’ll play the recording of their sixth month in the habitat, which is here right at the Johnson Space Center, and was recorded in December and January of 2023 and 2024 respectively. We’ll also be bringing in special guests to learn even more about CHAPEA. This month is on a topic that is perfect for that New Year’s Resolution: exercise.

We have a lot of practice and a lot of data for the exercise needs of a crew on a long duration Expedition on the International Space Station, six months, and even some data for crew that have been there for a year. It’s a mix of resistive and aerobic exercise on a daily basis. So for a crew on Mars, what is the right exercise regimen for a year on the Red Planet? On this episode, we have Peter Schneider and Alyssa Varanoske, human performance scientists who have been working on the exercise component of the CHAPEA mission. So with that, let’s learn from the CHAPEA crew on how they’re doing and from Peter and Alyssa on the CHAPEA exercise. Let’s get right into it.


Host: Alright, first is CHAPEA Mission Commander, Kelly Haston.

Kelly Haston: Hi, my name is Kelly Haston and I’m the commander of CHAPEA Mission 1, a one-year Mars analog mission out of Johnson Space Center in Houston. So far on our mission, as we’ve just hit our 50% point, or our first, in essence, six months or so, things are actually going really, really well. I say that every time cause we do these about approximately once a month. I just want to say that it’s continually just a source of joy for me. And also just a real pleasure to actually continue to tell people that we’re doing really great on this mission. I just have to commend both the crew who continues to really just rise to each occasion and give their best and really, you know, continue to excel in this regard.

But also, our support systems as well outside. It’s a very long mission. It’s over a year and it’s, you know, a really long time for us to all maintain our focus and produce our best possible result. So I think it’s super, it’s just amazing to me that we’re all doing so well still, we’re still incredibly engaged and just really enjoying the process of continuing to hit our goals. So everything is actually going really great.

Some of the highlights of the last month: So of course, you know, December in our normal lives are dominated by—or for many people—are dominated by holidays. American Thanksgiving was just at the tail end of November, and we did celebrate that in a very nice way, which was really, really nice. Then for the month of December, our med officer has a great love of Christmas and did a really, really great job of preparing for Christmas in the habitat by bringing things in that we could engage with the holiday for.

Kelly Haston: So he brought in a small tree that we were able to put up and decorate. It was decorated with both handmade ornaments and also 3D-printed ornaments that we made here. Really, he did a tremendous job there. And we also had quite a few Christmas movies to work through and quite a bit of Christmas music. So we really did engage in that. And what that allowed us to do is have several really special moments together as a crew. Also, for him to maybe do some things in conjunction with his family, which meant that he was celebrating certain things that they do at a particular time where at least close to when they would be doing it. And I think that that created a really nice sense of sort of togetherness for him with his family as well.  And really, we actually all surprised ourselves and ended up having a very robust Christmas morning gift exchange where we had a surprising number of gifts, both made in the habitat and some of them brought in as part of our weight allocation. So it was a really, really nice holiday and it gave everyone a chance to really sort of spend time together and engage in a different way than we normally do. So that was really nice.

On top of that, we also continued to really move through our process of doing our daily activities, which is a mix of both EVAs. or Extravehicular Activities, both virtual reality-based and also in what we call the “sandbox,” or the sandy area that is next to our habitat that mimics a Martian landscape. And in all cases, I think that the crew continues to really excel at doing these things.

Even though we are in some ways sort of grinding along, as you do in a normal job where we’re not doing new things every single time, sometimes we’re repeating things or we have, you know, tasks that are repetitive and need to be done weekly or come around every so often. We continue to really excel at getting good at them, at our communication. And then, you know, there are differences, too. We do get new challenges thrown our way, and you also have different mixes of people either being on the EV-side or the Extravehicular outside, you know, crew versus the people helping drive that crew from the inside, what we call our IV or basically our local mission control. That’s the person that’s going to help the extravehicular people really accomplish their goals because you need instructions and things read out to you over the radio. You’re not going to be able to take those things out onto the landscape with you. So I really love the way the team has continued to coalesce around a really efficient and, you know, a manner of getting our work done. And I think that that continues to be a highlight, even if we’re doing things over again. So holidays and also sort of, you know, the specialness of the crew solidifying into, a five, six-month process of doing our work has been really great.

Kelly Haston: Along with the things that we do for our work here in the habitat, we all had ideas about what we wanted to do with our downtime, cause we do have downtime now. The crew does some activities together. We watch a series of shows together, or we might pick a goal like, you know, watching a series, some series that we want to watch together. But on the flip side, you also have some individual time, and for me that’s involves a lot of reading and a lot of crafting. And so I’ve finished up a diamond painting of Mars, which I was doing for my partner, and was able to actually send him a picture of that for Christmas. I’ve also finished several embroideries and including one that I made for the crew and gifted to them on Thanksgiving evening when we were having our dinner. I think the crew was impressed with my skills and embroidery, and we got a good laugh out of that.

The CHAPEA crew poses for a photo to celebrate 150 days inside the habitat. From left is Nathan Jones, Kelly Haston, Anca Selariu, and Ross Brockwell. Credit: NASA
The CHAPEA crew poses for a photo to celebrate 150 days inside the habitat. From left is Nathan Jones, Kelly Haston, Anca Selariu, and Ross Brockwell. Credit: NASA

So I continue to think about things that I want to design and try to actually put into a fact through some of the crafting that I do along with other aspects of it. Also digging deeper into reading new and interesting books as well. So that’s been a real pleasure on the sort of individual side.

We also have a set amount of exercise that we do on this mission, as you might expect, if you have followed space exploration. So as an example on the ISS, they have a prescription for exercise daily. It actually has a tremendous amount of exercise to make sure that they stay physiologically healthy because they’re in null gravity and so forth. And so in a similar fashion, even though we are in the hab, we have both of our extravehicular activities, which are pretty physically intense, along with mentally challenging, but we also have a set amount of exercise that we do inside the habitat on a set number of exercise pieces of equipment.  That’s actually been a really great experience for multiple reasons. So I love exercising. I’m an ultra-runner in my spare time and in my normal life back on Earth. I love being on the trails. So I actually do a lot of outdoor activities, but this was a real opportunity to get to know some different activities and utilize exercise equipment in a different way. But it’s also a really amazing opportunity to interface with the exercise experts that are driving this part of the experiment. I just wanted to sort of give them a shout out and say how awesome that experience has been, because not only are we really able to engage with the exercises that we’re given and really give it your all each day, but we’re able to engage with them and communicate with them back and forth.

Kelly Haston:  Now, we don’t communicate with them in real time because we have time delays. So it’s pretty much all written. And so that ability to have the back and forth to make it the best possible exercise regime for an individual within the mission has been really great. They’re really encouraging and it’s just been such a pleasure to work with them. So the exercise has actually been really, really fun and great. And even though, we exercise six out of the seven days of the week, and then we have Sundays off.

You might think that some days you might not want to actually exercise, but actually given that’s what you get for the day and it is one of your goals, I find that I actually want to do my best. And even when you wake up and you think, “Oh, maybe today I just really don’t want to exercise,” by the time you actually get to that time point and you’re starting to engage in it, I feel like pretty much every day is a very rare day that I don’t come out of it feeling really enlivened and energized. So it’s been actually really great. As I mentioned, I think that that’s what you would expect from a mission to Mars, either in traveling to Mars or even when you’re on the planet, you’re in a different environment and environmental conditions, atmosphere, et cetera.  And those things are going to need to be dealt with through exercise to keep you strong and healthy, both physically, but also emotionally, because as I just mentioned, it can really actually enliven you and make you feel better for the day if you actually get a good workout in and feel like you’ve, you know, really sort of made yourself feel good. So I think that those have been really, really great in that it continues to be a source of enjoyment, but it’s also pretty much what I would expect in a mission, a real mission, where they were actually either on their way to or living on Mars. So I think that’s really kind of a cool part of it.

In the upcoming month: as we move into January, I think that the exciting part is that we will have hit our 50% point, which is amazing. So we hit 50% on December 31, and at that point, in some ways, in my mind, we’re on the long, admittedly, downhill. So we still have six months or more, but now we’re really starting to make sure that we go through the next part, the second half of this mission, continuing to produce the top quality data that we’ve managed to hopefully do so far, and continuing to really like, you know, as I said, grind away, face our new challenges, and really just look forward to those aspects of the mission that we don’t know are going to come yet, because certainly we’re going to have new challenges come to us as well.

Kelly Haston: So I think that, again, repeating things to the best of our ability, continuing to show that high caliber level of data production that we’ve hopefully been achieving so far. And then also any new challenges, I think that we have a lot to look forward to in that. So I think that this next month and beyond, you know, we also can really start to look forward to that emergence from the mission in six months’ time and seeing our families again. So that’s a huge drive as well. So I think that there’s just so much in January that’s kind of energizing and enlivening for this. Also in January, we will hit our 200-day milestone as well. So that will be another exciting milestone to have.

So overall, I think we have a lot to look forward to, but we are also grateful that we’ve made it this far and that we are happy, healthy, and moving through the mission to the best of our abilities. And I always want to finish by saying that we appreciate so much the support of everyone outside, both on the mission side, but also, for me personally, from my family and my partner. Without them, it’s just impossible to even think about doing something like this. You really need the support of everyone in your life. And so it’s greatly appreciated as is everyone’s interest in our progress.

Host: Alright, that was Commander Kelly Haston kicking us off to a fantastic start. You know, what I appreciated about her audio log for this month was all the positivity, looking backwards as well as forwards. She talked about reflecting on the past six months and getting into a really good stride with all the different activities, and of course, setting a really good tone for the next six months. Now, at this point, they’re halfway through their mission, so this is a fantastic milestone for them. And of course, they got to enjoy the holidays. Can’t wait to hear about some of the traditions in more detail. It seems like they did a lot with ornaments and quite a number of different traditions that were brought in either by themselves, but then also from Nathan’s family.  Looking forward to hear some of the traditions that he brought from his own experiences to the crew.

In addition to just getting into a stride and Kelly talked about repetitive tasks, they continuously enjoy things that boost their creativity. I find that quite interesting, the painting of the Mars, of course, the crafts that Kelly has been doing with her partner, experiencing books. So there’s always this level of creativity and something to look forward to. So it’s good to hear.

Okay, we’re going to be talking about exercise later in this episode. I can certainly relate to that exercise. Right now, we’re past that New Year’s resolution at the time that we’re recording this. But, you know, you go into a workout, you don’t necessarily want to do it, but at the back end of it, you always feel energized and enlightened. I love those phrases that Kelly shared with us. It was really great to hear about Kelly Haston’s experience. So next we’ll hear from CHAPEA mission Flight Engineer, Ross Brockwell.

Ross Brockwell: Hello, this is Ross Brockwell. Again, I’m the flight engineer for CHAPEA Mission 1, answering some more questions from Houston We Have a Podcast. “How is everything going?” It’s still going great. Time’s really flying. I’m actually recording this in early 2024, which is wild. So it’s going by pretty quickly, it seems. We’ve actually been talking recently about how we kind of are starting to feel like, you know, we’ll be nostalgic for this when it’s over.

“Tell us about some of the highlights of the activities of the last month”. We’ve had a few new challenges in EVAs, which were really cool. Some new things we had to build and sort out, repair, et cetera. The crop harvests were really, really amazing. They were great, really enjoyable, a lot of fun, really interesting. And we had Christmas and New Year’s.

The next question is, “What do we do for holidays this month?” We managed to have a pretty good time with both of those, and actually put together some pretty impressive decorations, which I can’t take too much credit for. But the crew did a really good job and they brought a Christmas tree in. It was really cool. We put it up, came out great. We made some ornaments to represent all the groups that helped us, you know, prepare this mission and are participating in this study. It was really neat. Did a really good job with them. We had a bunch of gifts to exchange. Some people brought some things in anticipation of it, but we got pretty creative with the resources we had and managed to put together some gifts for each other. And we also had the things our friends and families were allowed to send in for us to have around Christmas. They were great. New Year’s was the midpoint of the mission, so that was kind of a special celebration.

Ross Brockwell: The next question for me is, “Have I started guitar lessons with Nate?” And “Do we have a band name yet for the “best band” on Mars?” So maybe you just gave it to us. That’s a pretty good band name. We are the best and worst band on Mars. I don’t know what I bring to the table. Nate’s a pretty good guitarist and Anca can sing. Kelly’s got a ukulele. I may have to get creative. Maybe I can 3D print a tambourine or some bongos or cowbells. But technically, to answer your question, yes, he gave me an intro lesson, kind of showed me the basics of guitar temperature, and how it works, which I’ve been meaning to do for a long time.

I have a handful of other things I’ve been working on my own, so I haven’t really pressed Nate too much to carve out some time for lessons yet. But he showed me, opened the door and it’s there still. So I think, you know, we’ll find some time to mess around. He gave me a song he told me to learn, and he didn’t tell me what it was. So I’m looking forward to that. Hopefully, I can figure it out.

“Provide my perspective on exercise for this mission. How does it relate to your expectation in Mars in general?” So, exercise is obviously a big critical part of this study. So it’s going to be a little bit different obviously than the real mission where they’re studying effects of some of these things on our physiology. So we are, you know, trying to maintain a certain level of fitness. I imagine it would be technically different for a crew doing all this in one-third gravity for real. But exercise is great, it’s a big part of this, but it’s also something we enjoy. With the confinement, we really appreciate the chance to exercise. It just does kind of help us, putting ourselves on Mars is a big part of this, really helps with it. Some thoughts on the confinement in that regard, or, you know, mentally being on Mars, makes this all worth it, makes it all really exciting, makes this cozy and homey. Being able to exercise regularly is a big part of just generally feeling good while we’re in here.

Ross Brockwell: “What’s coming up in the next month and what am I looking forward to in 2024?”  So next month, there are some milestone dates coming up, some more of the day 200 coming up. There’s the two-thirds, things like that I’m looking forward to. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the next EVAs bring. I’m looking forward to being back on Earth too, but like I said, we are already kind of feeling and we know this is special for us and it’s a lot of fun, really interesting and enjoyable. And so we’re looking forward to being home. But we’re also going to miss it and we’re going to miss each other.

But I’m looking forward to a lot of the books I brought in I still haven’t read and have a Rubik’s Cube Kelly gave me for Christmas. I’m looking forward to finally solving one of those. I’ve always wanted to. More shows and movies we’ve got on our list, which is a lot of fun. Watching those together and commenting on them together is a lot of fun. Made some progress on my cabin design, which is exciting for me. A lot of fun. Speaking of institute resource utilization, designing a cabin, hopefully building it out of everything that’s there where I’m building it. So it’s been fun. How could I not say that I’m looking forward to more questions from Houston We Have a Podcast, so thanks and Happy New Year and we’ll talk to you again next month.

From left, Flight Engineer Ross Brockwell, Commander Kelly Haston, and Medical Officer Nathan Jones share a meal inside the CHAPEA habitat. Credit: NASA
From left, Flight Engineer Ross Brockwell, Commander Kelly Haston, and Medical Officer Nathan Jones share a meal inside the CHAPEA habitat. Credit: NASA

Host:  Alright, again, that was Ross Brockwell, flight engineer for CHAPEA 1. It was wonderful to hear Ross’s experience as well. There seems to be a consistent theme between he and Kelly with the pride in their decorations, the ornaments that they had made and 3D printed. There’s a certain amount of pride in doing those with the crew and doing them together that I think adds to their appreciation of the holidays each other and the mission. They both express gratitude for the folks that surround them, both inside and outside the habitat. One mentioned about the gifts for each other. You know, I think we sort of take this for granted ahead of the holidays. We start thinking about the gifts that we want to give to each other, and then we go out to the store and get them for a mission to Mars. These gifts have to be planned well in advance, and not just the Christmas gifts, not just the holiday gifts, and on these different moments, but you have to basically plan things for the duration of your mission. Not only gifts to exchange and items, but just things to look forward to in moments to appreciate throughout the mission. I think that’s part of maintaining that positive attitude that we’re seeing amongst the crew, is they constantly are looking forward to and constantly finding chances to celebrate with each other. And it’s certainly good to hear from the crew.

We’re going to hear with some exercise experts coming up here, but I did want to mention that Ross mentioned not only is exercise so important to the crew’s health physiologically, and there is a need to exercise when on a space mission. We see it all the time with the International Space Station. But it was interesting to hear Ross’s perspective of appreciating the chance to exercise. I thought that was interesting cause not only is exercise something that needs to be done, but it seems like it’s something to look forward to almost a break. Not only is it physiologically important, but it can certainly be something that can be appreciated and really help the crew to maintain their positivity that we’re seeing throughout this mission. So with that, let’s take a break. Before we get to those next two crew members, Nathan and Anca, we’re going to go over to speak with some exercise experts, Peter Schneider and Alyssa Varanoske. Here we go. Peter and Alyssa, thanks so much for coming on. Houston We Have a Podcast.

Peter Schneider: Hey, thanks for having us.

Alyssa Varanoske: Yeah, we really appreciate you reaching out. We’re happy to be here.

Host: Yeah, you guys are doing some really interesting stuff with CHAPEA, but of course, this is not your only role, right? You got pulled in because you guys have some jobs and duties as assigned outside of CHAPEA. And I wanted to start by diving a little bit deeper into that. Peter, why don’t we start with you, human performance integrator. What led you to joining the CHAPEA team and doing some research there?

Peter Schneider: Yeah, so my overall background’s in kinesiology and biomedical sciences. I’m actually a subcontractor with Leidos, But I started working around JSC about five years ago, working for the HERA analog, which is Human Exploration Research Analog in ROI, which is Research Operations and Integration, supporting science and payloads with both of those efforts. But then I actually started working for Artemis Medical Operations at the Crew Health Integrator, where I’m also training to be an Artemis BME flight controller. And then through that role, I got a lot more insight into exercise countermeasures and integration and operations and what it takes to implement exercise in space. So I started working in the exercise portion of H3PO, which stands for the Human Physiology Performance Protections and Operations Laboratory. That’s why we call ourselves H3PO. It’s a mouthful. A lot easier, right?

So that has more than one tech area. We’re the exercise tech area. We also go by EPC, Exercise Physiology and Countermeasures, but there’s also spacesuits, exploration operations, also known as SSEO. I think you talked to Patrick Estep already. That’s where he’s from. There’s also applied injury, biomechanics and data and software. So it’s very much a multidisciplinary team full of engineers and scientists. We support a lot of different things, research operations, and a lot of integration. One of my specific roles outside of CHAPEA is actually being an interface between all the exercise subject matter experts and all the different programs that are working on implementing exercise. For example, there’s Gateway, there’s Orion, there’s all these different programs and vehicles that are starting up. And so I integrate the expectations and requirements that are set by the exercise needs and just talk with the different programs to ensure that those requirements are being met and being a good steward for crew health, because that’s why those requirements are there in the first place.

Host: Okay. You’re right. You’re the middleman. You have to think about what exercise is needed to maintain crew health. And then just reach out, “Hey Gateway, make sure you’re doing this. Hey Ryan, make sure you’re doing this. Hey, Mars, make sure you’re doing this.” Or is it the other way around?

Peter Schneider: I mean, we’ll get there. Yeah.


Host: That’s good though. I mean, kinesiology though. What made you pursue that?

Peter Schneider: That’s interesting. I really enjoyed sports growing up. That was really my main thing that I always did. So I just wanted to learn more about the physiology that goes behind that. At the time I also really wanted to be a physical therapist, and that’s a very typical track to go towards that. I didn’t know about human-centric jobs at NASA at the time. And as I was just pursuing my education, I was also interested in biomedical science. So I went and got my master’s in that. And then I randomly came across someone that was just kind of going around recruiting this group at NASA called Research Operations and Integration, cause they needed experiment support scientists. And that’s how I found out that there’s this whole human health and performance realm within NASA here at JSC. So that really piqued my interest growing up. I’ve always loved space but my background was in science and I didn’t know how to exactly get there. So I was really lucky that I met that individual and was able to be brought on cause ever since I joined, I’ve learned a whole lot. And my interest is definitely pinpointed into very specific things that I want to continue to pursue.

Peter Schneider, human performance scientist at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Credit: NASA
Peter Schneider, human performance scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Credit: NASA

Host: Oh, that’s awesome. Well, yeah, awesome to have you, Peter. This is fantastic. Glad to have you on. I can’t wait to learn more about CHAPEA, too. Alyssa, your journey. You’re a human performance scientist.

Alyssa Varanoske: Yes, I am. So, while Peter’s on more of the integration side, I’m more of more on the science side. Science is my passion and it’s really something I’ve been interested in my entire life. I started working on the CHAPEA project the first day I started, I started about two years ago now. And Peter reached out to me and he was like, “Hey, we’re working on this project, this analog, it’s a really big project. Can you help me with the prescriptions?” And I was like, “I don’t have an idea what this means. I have no idea what’s going on.” I was kind of being thrown into the fire. But it’s been an exciting fire and it’s been really, really interesting to help out on this entire time.

Prior to my time at NASA, I worked with the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine in the military nutrition division. And there I primarily examined pharmacological and nutritional interventions to help sustain warfighter health, performance and resiliency during strenuous operations. So it was a really good transition moving from there to NASA where you have a very similar clientele in the fact that we’re not dealing with soldiers, we’re dealing with astronauts, but they’re both trying to perform at high levels in very austere environments and very unique environments. So it was a really good transition, really easy transition for me. And I feel like I was able to translate a lot of what I did with the Army to my current role here.

But as I was saying, yeah, most of my roles are involved more of the research side of things. We do a lot of operational tasks as well. And a lot of our research does apply to operations. So we are trying to answer specific research questions regarding the efficacy of certain exercise devices, prescriptions, adjunct countermeasures, how we can change the prescriptions in flight. Certain modifiable and non-modifiable factors that can contribute to deconditioning during flight. We’re all trying to get to the answer of what’s the most effective way that we can maintain performance when crew members go on these long-duration space flight missions.

Alyssa Varanoske, human performance scientist at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Credit: Alyssa Varanoske
Alyssa Varanoske, human performance scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Credit: Alyssa Varanoske

Host: So I guess you’re saying because you’re involved in a group that’s touching more than CHAPEA, have you been involved with just CHAPEA? Are you kind of dabbling in other areas as well?

Alyssa Varanoske: Yeah, the whole EPC group is spread throughout a lot of different areas. So Peter works a lot of integrated roles, but a lot of us on the EPC team work on different research projects as well. But not only research, we work largely with operations. So being able to, like I was saying, translate our research into what can be used in flight. So we work, hand in hand with the astronaut strength and conditioning and rehabilitation specialists, or the ASCRs. A lot of what we find in our data that we collect on the crew members can be used to change exercise prescriptions and change the norm of what crew members would be doing in flight to help prevent those declines in physical performance. So it’s really operational what we do. I personally like the research aspect, but it’s really cool to see the research being translated into operations.

Host: Yeah. You probably see, you know, all of that and how that works from the research side and then actually gets implemented in flight. But of course, there are those differences. You talk about inflight, where astronauts in low Earth orbit, what we’re about to talk about CHAPEA is collecting data that may help us understand more of Mars. And there may be some similarities, but that’s what you guys are focused on, is finding those.

Alyssa Varanoske: Yeah, exactly. There are some similarities. There are a ton of differences. When it comes to exercise prescriptions, when it comes to exercise devices that are currently planned for exploration missions to the lunar surface, as well as what we conceptually have for potential Mars missions in the future. So there’s definitely a lot of gaps and a lot of learning that we have to do. But the ISS is a great tool for us, and CHAPEA is a great tool for us to get a better understanding of what we’re going to need for exercise devices on those future missions.

Host: Yeah. Let’s get into some of those similarities and differences. But first Peter, I think one thing Alyssa mentioned is you pulled her in. So you were involved with the project a little earlier. Can you talk about when you got pulled in and say, Hey, Peter, can you help us with the exercise component of this?

Peter Schneider: Yeah. I got pulled in like six months before, something like that. CHAPEA’s been a project of mine, especially with Grace, obviously, cause she’s the one spearheading it all for a while, before I even joined the lab. But there was originally an exercise piece always planned to be part of it. No one had quite picked up that word quite yet, but it was always there. I joined the lab and they knew that I had experience working in HERA, the Human Exploration Research Analog. It’s similar to CHAPEA, that it is like a research ground-based analog that we have to kind of learn about all these soft aspects around operations that aren’t necessarily seen in requirements, but aren’t. I worked there for quite a while. And so that experience allowed me to translate a lot of, I guess what we have from the exercise means, to get it implementable within CHAPEA because I knew what kind of constraints and what type of products needed to be developed to make it successful.

For example, procedures. Just in time training videos, we had to make a lot of these things ourselves. So like when we say we’re doing operations, like there’s a whole entity called FOD that does a lot of these things for International Space Station and other programs that we can work with to create procedures and training materials and stuff like that. But our little exercise subject matter team for CHAPEA kind of had to do all that ourselves. So it’s a lot of work. But I knew what it took to do that. And so I think that’s part of kind of how I got roped into—not roped in. It sounds like I didn’t have a choice. I wanted to work on CHAPEA, cause I mean, it’s super exciting to work on Mars-centric research. But I feel like I had the integrated skill set to make it successful.

Host: Are the training videos more like, “Here’s how this works. Here’s how you do an exercise,” or like, “Here’s how you fix the equipment.” What was your—

Peter Schneider: Oh, I mean, we do both of those. Some of them kind of where it’s like high level overview, here’s how to do some certain exercises. One specific case, like if a resistance device breaks and you can’t use it, we had to make an operational product that kind of accurately described to them how to complete some load bearing exercises just with your body weight, as like a contingency until the primary device is back online. So that’s one example. There are some maintenance activities. For example, our bike has power meters in the pedals. So, we need to replace those batteries every once in a while. So that’s an example of a maintenance test that we have to do.

Host: Yeah. Standard maintenance. Okay. So Alyssa, when did you get pulled in? When Peter came to you and said, “Hey, I need some help. It’s just me and a couple other people trying to put this together.” What did you start doing?

Alyssa Varanoske: Yeah, pretty much. It was a very unique opportunity because I was actually working remote at the time. COVID was still going on. So I was pulled into this project and I hadn’t seen the habitat, had no idea really what was going on. And it was kind of like, make a prescription, make adjustments to the prescription based off of these exercise devices that you don’t really know much about. And I still didn’t have a really good idea of what the project and what the intentions of the projects were as a whole. So it was a huge learning experience for me. Then once I finally came here on site, I was like, “Oh, okay. I understand the magnitude of this.” I understand like the impact on which all of these exercise systems will have on the crew, and the importance of how the exercise prescriptions would affect every other aspect of this study.

So the exercise selections, the devices that we’re using in the habitat, were chosen specifically because they represent concepts that probably will be capable or probably will be available on future exploration missions. So importantly, they were selected because they’re gravity-independent devices. So I know Peter was saying that there are dumbbells in other analog habitats, but we don’t have those in the CHAPEA habitat because on Mars and on the Moon, on ISS, we really can’t send dumbbells up because things weigh a lot less. So we had to be creative in trying to select exercise devices that would replicate the concepts and the capabilities that we might see on exploration missions. So the devices that we currently have in the habitat are not the ones that are going to be sent up to the Moon or Mars, but they have the capabilities that you would expect on Mars mission. So we have a cycle ergometer, just a regular stationary bike that you would find in like a gym. We also have a rowing ergometer, again, just like a rower that you would find in a gym. And then we have a resistance exercise device that pretty much works through motors and cables. And you’re able to do a bunch of different exercises on this device. Single-joint, multi-joint, unilateral, bilateral exercises. So it’s a really unique complement of exercise devices which is different than what they use in other analogs.

Peter Schneider: Yeah. Another reason we went with those is because of autonomy. Mars is very far away and it’s really hard for people on the ground to operationally support them. So we need to see if there’s a system that can be made to allow them to follow a prescription and adhere to it well on their own, without us being in the room or without their astronaut strength and rehabilitation specialist. We also call them ASCRs, I think you already mentioned them, but hey’re like the strength coaches for the astronauts. We’re not going to have as frequent comm with the crew on Mars. So we really needed to have a system that can help guide them and provide visuals to them while they’re exercising. So like the bike that she mentioned, yeah, it’s a regular stationary bike, but it is a smart bike. It does connect to an iPad and we can have an app running on the iPad that guides them through their exercise protocol and we can use it for testing as well. Then the rower has an app that guides them along. Like you can chase a boat on there, for example, it’s like going up and down, kind of like Flappy Bird. So you can add more wattage to it to get it up and down. And then the resistance device also has a really nice visual that guides them through each exercise. So you can watch someone in the app kind of like complete the exercise and kind of mimic them to make sure you’re doing it properly. It guides you through your sets and counts them for you. And we collect all of our data through those means as well. So it’s been a really nice, I guess, test run to see how a crew can adhere to a protocol. It’s completely on their own.

Host: Yeah. This is pretty important. Not only you guys are thinking about what exercise is necessary—and it sounds like a good combination of resistive and aerobic on three different machines—but you also have to make sure there’s that communication component that is critical, cause they did insert the communication delays pretty heavily into CHAPEA, so they have to rely on those videos that you’re talking about.

Peter Schneider: Yes. Yep.

Host: So Alyssa, were you the one like when Peter pulled you in, did you say, “Alright, here’s what their exercise looks like,” and you actually designed routines for them?

Alyssa Varanoske: So, kind of? So, Peter and Brian, one of the other members of the EPC team, they actually really put in the hard work in selecting these exercise devices that were going to be representative of what we might see on future missions. But the job for myself as well as some other members of the team was how do we create exercise prescriptions that might mimic what we might see on future expiration missions within the time and frequency requirements that are expected in future missions. And by that I mean, we want to make sure that we are adequately mirroring the total amount of time that a crew member might spend doing exercise per day with these devices. So we don’t know exactly what those requirements look like just yet, but we do know that going up to space, being in a microgravity environment for a prolonged period of time is going to result in a lot of deconditioning to the body across multiple physiological systems.

And when you’re on Earth, when you’re in a one G environment, we don’t really have that deconditioning that you would see in space. And so these prescriptions had to be designed in a very particular way to try to mimic the physiological response that you would expect on Mars. So they’re designed very uniquely to give the most accurate representation of what we might expect for crew members on Mars so that the other disciplines integrated in CHAPEA, will be able to examine their measures in a particular way.

Host: Okay. I think I know what you’re getting at because we’re on Earth. So, instead of getting you to a “here’s how you get to that performance in one G,” you’re sort of designing something. “Well, what if we had to take that down to a third G?” Am I interpreting that right?

Alyssa Varanoske: Yeah. It’s an interesting question because we’re trying to mimic the outcome. So how can we maintain performance? Because ultimately for astronauts that are in space, the main goal of participating in any exercise training is to try to maintain performance. Usually what we see with most crew members on the ISS is that they come back in a deconditioned state. Even though we have this suite of exercise countermeasures on the ISS, right now we have a treadmill, we have a cycle ergometer, and we have a resistance exercise device. Which, this has been years, decades of research in order to get to this point, advances in technology, and things like that. We started off with pretty much no exercise on any space flight mission. And then those crews were coming back extremely deconditioned, even though they were only up there for a relatively short amount of time.

But yeah, advances in technology and the importance of exercise kind of finally came to light. And as these advances came, we started to realize that crew members were doing better, they were coming back in a less deconditioned state. Things aren’t perfect. Like I was saying, most crew members still come back relatively deconditioned from their pre-flight performance capabilities, but we’re getting better. And so our goal on ISS is to try to maintain that pre-flight performance. So how can we mitigate the declines that we typically see as a result of space flight? So for CHAPEA, that’s kind of what we wanted to do. We wanted to design these prescriptions to kind of simulate a best-case scenario for what we might see on Mars, in that we want the crew members to try their best to- or that we wanted to design the prescriptions so that crew members might maintain their performance over the course of the year.

Host: Okay. And so you had to work with what Peter and his group prescribed to you, which was: here’s the three exercise machines please come up with, you call them prescriptions, but I guess I’m thinking about translating prescriptions into like an exercise regime. Is that-

Alyssa Varanoske: That’s exactly what it is. Yeah. When we talk about exercise prescriptions, that’s, yep. It’s just a training regimen. A training program. And so that’s what we had to do right at the beginning of the mission. We had to essentially create a year-long training regime for all these crew members before even knowing who they were coming in. And so these had to be designed with the mission parameters in mind. Like, you have a certain amount of time to do aerobic exercise, you have a certain amount of time to do resistance exercise. What can you do with that time in order to try to maintain performance? But how are we going to make that fit to potentially anyone that could come in CHAPEA? So of course, everyone comes in with different training statuses pre-mission. But for our mission objectives from an exercise perspective, we needed to kind of make a one size fits all type of prescription. So how can we apply this prescription to the most fit people and also the least fit people within those mission parameters and the exercise time and frequency constraints that we might see on Mars missions.

Host: Okay. There it is. Yeah. And so you have sort of a template, if you will, for what an exercise a year looks like, of exercising on Mars. And Peter, you were using the three machines, as we described, it was, it sounds like, a stationary bike, a rowing machine, and some sort of resistive thing. So it’s that healthy balance of resistive and aerobic, which is very similar to what you mentioned Alyssa, the ISS’ different machines, which is sort of the same in the sense that it’s a mix of aerobic and resistive, but really that’s ultimately what you guys chose to pick are the three machines.

Peter Schneider: Yeah. I mean, with the devices and even the protocol that she was talking us through, there were a lot of constraints that we had to consider. Like she mentioned the time, there’s a reason why our time is constrained. If you look at ISS, crew time is a very hot commodity. Everybody really wants the crew to work on their payload or work on implementing this operational thing for them. So there’s a lot of groups, but there’s only so many crew members. So same thing’s going to apply on Mars. And we have very important Mars objectives that we want to complete that are, a lot of them are only able to be done through EVAs or space walks, or we can call them Mars walks. And so exercise is there to help prepare them and be fit, to accomplish those tasks, but at the same time, we gotta allow time for them to go out and do those things. So we have to, you know, play fair and understand that we have constraints to live in, but we’re trying to maximize what we can do with those constraints, ’cause it is important for crew health and their performance.

Host: I see. Okay. Otherwise you’d be working, working them out as much as you wanted to. Right. But how much is reasonable for a crew on Mars?

Alyssa Varanoske: Yeah, so that’s a good question. So we’re lucky and we’re fortunate enough to, a lot of people, at least in the exercise world, really like to work out. And so that’s something that, you know, we see of a lot of people in our studies that volunteer for exercise studies that they really enjoy working out and they want to work out more. But it’s interesting because there’s a balance between exercise and other consumables that might be used in real space missions as well as analog missions. And by that I mean, the more you exercise, the more water you require because you’re sweating a lot more, the more food you might require because you’re expending a lot more energy doing that exercise. If we’re talking about a vehicle, like the ISS, or like a habitat, or something like that, there’s only so much oxygen that the environmental system can provide. And if we’re working out a lot more and we’re producing a lot more carbon dioxide and us utilizing a lot more oxygen that might tax the environmental system so much that it’s unable to provide those different consumables. So there’s a trade-off between exercise and consumables. And while we would love to say “Yeah, exercise all day, like it’s going to be great for your health and performance,” there’s also a lot of other factors that we need to consider across multiple different disciplines.

Host: Yeah. I would think it was mostly a time thing, but you mentioned it gets a little more complicated than that. There’s the consumables aspect, of course, the calories. If you’re burning a bunch of calories and you need twice as much food, that’s huge. Right? We don’t have that much. You already mentioned the weight constraints of the exercise devices themselves. If you had to add a bunch of food onto that, that’s a lot to consider.

Peter Schneider: So, there’s also power for those devices. And we would maybe want them to work if power goes out. So we need to maybe think about those things. And also those devices also have heat themselves. So those can create heat. The human body creates heat. The environmental system has to handle all of those things. So it’s very complicated.

Host: So, when you took all of these different constraints that you were given when you worked on the different exercise prescriptions, and you have the devices and you put all these things together, what, to you and your group, is success in terms of gathering data, right? You put forward, you did a bunch of hard work to put together the videos and to get as good of an exercise prescription as you possibly could think. What is success in terms of measuring exercise for CHAPEA?

Alyssa Varanoske: Yeah, so we, in addition to the exercise program that the crew members are going through, we also conduct, or at least they conduct on themselves, these exercise performance tests at specific intervals throughout the study. And so we designed these exercise performance tests to test all different types of physiological systems. So we’re testing things like strength, power, aerobic capacity, anaerobic capacity. And this gives us an idea of their physical performance at that moment in time. So we’re able to see as the mission goes along whether or not our exercise prescriptions are working in terms of maintaining their performance. And this is a really important and integral part of the CHAPEA mission because not only are we understanding if the exercise prescriptions are working, but we’re also understanding the other factors that might contribute to their exercise performance.

So for example, how does the food system contribute to their performance? So if there are alterations in what they’re able to consume, like crops- if it new crops are introduced, how does that affect physiological performance, health and performance as a whole? So, my personal measure of success would be, are we able to do what we intended to do? Are we able to do so successfully with minimal disruptions to the exercise equipment? Are they able to adhere to the protocol? Making sure that anytime that they try to communicate with us that we’re responsive and understanding their potential concerns. So we’re able to communicate with the crew, of course on a time delay. And so getting them to be able to adhere and stick to that exercise training program is really the key outcome.

Peter Schneider: Yeah. And that’s the very exercise-centric answer. There’s also a big picture answer, which is: is exercise an important piece of the overall CHAPEA or Mars mission puzzle? We definitely think it is, but we want to make sure that it is supporting the overall mission. So as we do this integrative CHAPEA effort, we’re trying to see that, oh, the EVA was completely successful, but we had a good exercise system that was used the whole time, so that’s something to consider. Success to me is that exercise is indeed an intervention or what we call a countermeasure and is functioning appropriately as though to support the overall mission.

Host: So this leads perfectly into my next question cause Peter, how you phrased that answer is how I like to end the conversation with some of the special guests we’ve been having on this CHAPEA series, is thinking about the holistic view, because CHAPEA, as you mentioned Peter, is holistic from the sense that there are so many different disciplines. And I like that when you’re talking about the exercise, one of the things that you’re considering as a measure of success and goals is how this fits into the broader picture, which is something that’s kind of unique to CHAPEA. And so I wonder, Peter I’ll start with you- From your perspective, when it comes to putting together a better understanding and figuring out what Alyssa was saying, what is the right mix of exercise for a Mars mission? What is the right prescription for Mars crews? Why is a mission like CHAPEA? Why is an analog like CHAPEA so important?

Peter Schneider: Well, we don’t actually know what the right prescription is yet. We don’t know what the right devices are. So that’s exactly the questions we’re trying to answer. There is a lot of different considerations that we’ve already discussed that go into all of that, but I mean that’s, I think what you just described is kind of the end goal of what we’re trying to do with CHAPEA exercise. CHAPEA as a whole is very complicated. It’s got a lot of those EVAs that we talked about, and they’re high tempo, and they might be really hard to do compared to what we do on ISS. And we need them to be prepared and fit to do that. So exercise just needs to be robust and understood and developed in a way that maximizes performance to enable all those other aspects of Mars operations, but also is efficient to the point that it is staying within all those limitations that are set by, you know, having a feasible vehicle that’s usable to get there, to have a habitat for us to live in, and to come home in, this is very complicated. And I think it’s just important that we learn where those limits are and this is an important piece for us to know where those limits are so we can maximize our performance within them.

Alyssa Varanoske: Yeah, and I just wanted to branch off of that. So as we look to the Moon and Mars, a lot of the exercise devices that we see on the ISS right now are not going to be used in future missions. And so we have to think about exercise in a little bit different of a way for missions to the Moon, where we have this Orion vehicle with a very tight space, very limited on power, very limited on volume. We’re going from essentially this large suite of countermeasures that we have on the ISS with a treadmill, a bike, and a really robust resistance exercise device down to essentially a shoebox-size exercise device that incorporates both aerobic and resistive exercise. And so this is the current countermeasure that’s planned for nearby or near-term Artemis missions. And so when we look towards surface operations on the Moon and on Mars, we’re trying to understand, are these countermeasures that are planned for those missions, will those be sufficient for protecting performance? And so these are studies that we’re currently working on in the lab is understanding the effectiveness of these other devices that are currently planned for those exploration missions. And if those will be sufficient to maintain things like functional performance on EVA tasks. Will crew be able to perform emergency egresses if necessary? Will they be too tired to complete EVA tasks? And what are the requirements for exercises on those on future missions?

Importantly, the CHAPEA mission doesn’t have a treadmill as part of the exercise component. It does have a treadmill as part of the EVA component, but there’s a reason why there’s not a treadmill as part of the exercise component. And that is because right now on the ISS, the treadmill is the biggest piece of exercise equipment. It requires the most power, it requires the most volume, and it requires the most space in terms of, not only is it a big piece of equipment, but all the exercise devices on the ISS are also attached to what we call a vibration isolation and stabilization system or a VIS. And those VIS pieces of equipment, they act as shock absorbers. So you can think of them as being like a spring. So one end would be attached to the actual exercise device and the other end would be attached to the wall of the vehicle. The reason why we have those is because any of the forces that are imparted into the exercise device, we don’t want those going directly into the vehicle ’cause that can cause structural damage and potentially hurt the lifespan or affect the lifespan of the vehicle. And so the treadmill of all of the three devices requires the largest vibration isolation system. And so when we look towards future missions where space is going to be an issue, where size and mass is going to be an issue, the treadmill is the largest component. It’s the heaviest, the most costly in terms of power and in terms of size. And so we’re actually in the process of doing several studies in our lab evaluating whether or not a treadmill is going to be a necessary component of the exercise training regimen. And so CHAPEA really helps us out with that respect as well, because we don’t have a treadmill as part of the exercise training program in CHAPEA. And so understanding how their performance, or how their health and performance, their integrated look at not only EVA tasks, but are they able to maintain physical fitness? Do they wish they had additional capabilities? So these are all questions that are going to be answered hopefully in the CHAPEA mission, and we’re really excited to get that feedback.

Host: So, yeah, I guess another way to say it is the International Space Station astronauts, because they’ve been using the treadmill, we’ve been assuming a certain performance based on that kind of aerobic exercise. Now, what happens when you take away a treadmill and you’re left with a rowing machine and a bike when it comes to aerobic exercise? The question is: is that fine?

Alyssa Varanoske: Yep. Exactly. And we might even, for early Artemis missions, we’re even going back a step, so we don’t even have a bike on the early Artemis missions, just the rowing machine. So it’s just the rowing capabilities going.

Peter Schneider: It goes into constraints. So we’re having to live within engineering constraints. And Artemis II specifically, it’s just Orion. It’s a very small vehicle, very limited in the volume. So they did pick a device that’s very tiny, but it does a lot. But it’s essentially a modified flywheel. If you know what a flywheel is, it’s an iso inertial, it’s available commercial off the shelf. But it essentially levies like a yo-yo type physics where you can pull on a device and the yo-yo will keep spinning and it’ll pull back. So like if you pull away harder, it’ll pull back harder. So that’s the methodology that they’re taking advantage of for that device. So we had to get really creative in these small volumes. And so we’re testing out the efficacy of that. Actually, that’s one of our current projects is doing some performance testing on that device for Artemis II and for future Artemis missions. But yeah, having to live within those constraints and making sure that the crew, their health and their performance and all of that is still being met, even though we’re living with these constraints. And Artemis II is a good showcase of just how many different things you can impart on from a constraints perspective. And it’s going to be interesting to see how much we can get out of it from a performance perspective.

Host: Yeah, I can see the challenges that you guys have to undergo, because that’s of course a challenge. You got the engineering challenges, you have to go down to a tiny volume, what’s the solution there? And of course, that builds, right? So you have, if we do some research and figure out that that is not enough, perhaps there’s some extra requirements and changes for what happens to Gateway, what happens to lunar surface operations over a long period of time. And of course, trying to make that jump to what CHAPEA is, way out, right? That year long mission on Mars, that where is that balance? You guys have a difficult job ahead of you, trying to measure all of that and find that right balance. I was thinking, Peter, when you were talking about the challenges of what is peak performance and what are the constraints that we have to live by? The analogy I kept coming up with was Goldilocks. Just the Goldilocks zone of, you have all these different constraints, but you want to maximize the performance so you can exist in peak performance. The best scenario exists in this tiny little Goldilocks zone, and that’s what you’re trying to find.

Peter Schneider: Exactly. Yeah.

Host: You guys have a very interesting job and I can’t wait to hear from the crew on their exercise. We sent them some questions on exercise, see how that’s been going, and to hear from you on everything that’s been happening on board in CHAPEA and all the work you had to do to prepare for just that analog, super exciting stuff. And, you know, I was asking about success. I really hope that everything that you’ve put in leads you to the success that you’re looking for. So, Peter and Alyssa, thank you so much for coming on Houston We Have a Podcast. This was awesome.

Alyssa Varanoske: Yeah, thank you so much for having us.

Peter Schneider: Yeah, thank you so much. It was great.

Host: Alright, that was a great conversation with Peter and Alyssa. So let’s go back to those audio logs. Only two more to go next is medical officer Nathan Jones.

Nathan Jones: Hello, I’m Nate Jones. I’m the crew medical officer of CHAPEA Mission One. Everything is still going really well. I don’t have any concerns so far. The biggest highlights of the past month were definitely celebrating the holidays. We put up a Christmas tree as a crew and we were able to create some ornaments and decorations using things around the habitat. We also found some LED light strips in the habitat and put those on the tree as Christmas lights. And so that part of the mission felt a lot like being at home for me. The crew also brought in a large collection of music and videos from our own personal collections at home. And so we were able to enjoy some holiday videos and music as a crew. We each brought in some gifts that we had received from family and friends, and we brought a few to share amongst ourselves as well. And so on Christmas morning, we unwrapped those and it felt a lot like being at home as well. I did miss out on Christmas morning with my family, but I did get some great video and photos from them enjoying their Christmas. The crew also saved up some of our favorite foods and we enjoyed those on Christmas, and so I ended up eating quite a bit as well. So that felt quite a bit like a usual Christmas would from that standpoint. Overall, I would say that the Christmas and holidays were quite a success for us.

I previously mentioned that I’ve really missed out on having some crunchy things to eat, so I sure wish we could grow some potato chips, but unfortunately, those weren’t included in our crops since they’re not really possible. Then again, I think if NASA decides to create that sort of thing, it would go over really well in space and on earth, to be honest with you. But having some of the crunchier crops really did help. And even the other non-crunchy fresh crops really were helpful, I thought as well. I think just because of the fact that they added some variety of the foods that we had. I’ve enjoyed the crops so well that, while I plant a garden outside in my yard every year, I really think that, when I get back home, I’ll strongly consider putting a garden inside my house and having some crops in the winter to enjoy.

Fresh tomatoes and peppers grown from inside the CHAPEA habitat. Credit: NASA
Fresh tomatoes and peppers grown from inside the CHAPEA habitat. Credit: NASA

Previously mentioned that we have a pretty neat exercise program here. It was put together by the H3PO team at NASA who are just awesome to work with. The team custom designed a fitness schedule for us like they would for a Moon or Mars mission in the future. The exact equipment used on those missions would probably change some, but I definitely get the idea for the exercises that they would be planning to do for those sort of missions with it. And so it’s really well thought out. The exercise is really there though, to keep astronauts healthy and kind of maintain what they were whenever they were on Earth. And you don’t want to have any injuries whenever you’re 300 million kilometers away from the closest orthopedic surgeon. But for me, I’m just excited to get to exercise on Mars still. So it it’s been a great program so far.

In the next month, I’m looking forward to hitting some pretty big milestones. I think it helps me, especially when I know that I’m missing out a holiday with my family and friends. We just passed a six month, a few days ago and we’ll be at the halfway point of our mission in just a couple of days from when I’m recording this. Then about a week and a half after that, we hit the 200-day mission mark. The best and the worst part of the mission so far has been how fast it’s flown by. I know that it’s been a truly special year here so far, and so I’m really going to miss it, but I also can’t wait to see my family and friends again. Thank you so much for your interest in our mission. I hope you have a great day.

Medical Officer, Nathan Jones, conducts an experiment with "Mars" regolith inside CHAPEA's 1,200 square foot habitat. Credit: NASA
Medical Officer, Nathan Jones, conducts an experiment with “Mars” regolith inside CHAPEA’s 1,200 square foot sandbox. Credit: NASA

Host: Alright, that was Medical Officer Nathan Jones. We were looking forward to hearing about some of the traditions that he brought from home, and we got to hear a couple of those ideas. The LED light strips, the videos, which of course Kelly mentioned as well, some of those home traditions from Earth brought to Mars and shared with the crew. And it seems like most of the crew really enjoyed it. Really all of the crew, I think, a chance to just get together and share some of, and appreciate some of the holidays, and make some of those ornaments as well. Nathan not only got to experience that with the crew, but he also got to contact with home, and that’s very important. Remember they’re not doing any sort of live conversations while they’re in CHAPEA. They’re simulating those significant delays, which is part of the reason that we have these audio logs and are not having a chance to interview the crew. You just can’t have a two-way conversation. So the contact with home has to be message to message. But then he’s got to appreciate some of the holidays with the family by them taking a video and sharing with him. Interesting to hear about Nathan still missing crunchy things. Bringing a lighthearted approach to those crops and those potato chip crops. I really hope NASA gets on that. But it is good to hear that there is positive feedback on the crops, and that is introducing variety. One of those important things that I know, that is part of CHAPEA.

Another feedback on the exercise. Really excited to exercise. Really good to hear that it’s not just something that they need to do or have to do, but the crew is really appreciating the opportunity to do so. Again, they’re about halfway through this mission at the time that I’m recording this, but they’re recording it both on the front and back end of that halfway point, which is at the end of December. But it’s interesting to hear that they said it’s going by fast. I guess with all of the activities that they’re doing, they have long days, they have things that they’re looking forward to, but even six months they’re talking about it’s zooming by, which is, as Nathan described, both a good thing and a bad thing. They definitely appreciate that and we’re hearing that a lot that they’re appreciating their time in the mission. But now that we’re in 2024 and looking forward to the end of the mission this summer, they are definitely looking forward to seeing their family again and going “back on Earth.” So we’ll continue to follow them through these audio logs for the rest of their mission. But we have one more audio log to go, and that is from our science officer, Anca Selariu. Here we go.

Anca Selariu: Greetings Earthlings. This is Anca Selariu, Science Officer of CHAPEA Mission 1. It is now January of 2024, and amazingly we are in the second half of our mission. It has been a fantastic end of the year, and we’ve celebrated with a lot of presents. We’ve decorated and had excellent festivities, which included, of course, copious gift exchanges, many puzzles, and even hand-drawn ornaments on our little tree. And of course, we had stockings, stocking stuffers, and lots of good music, a lot of Christmas movies that we’ve managed to go through. We certainly had a lot of fun in each other’s company while also finishing up the year 2023’s work for NASA. And we’re really looking forward to the second half of the mission, and we’re hoping to provide just as excellent of data sets as we have been so far.

Indeed, we had crops over the month of November and December, and I greatly enjoyed them. I even named one mint plant “Minty Nefario” because it really likes to overtake everybody else in its tray. But we enjoyed absolutely every single one of them, and I was reminded how amazing the smell of greenery is and how much that really connects you with the Earth, with soil, with the life on Earth. And it’s one thing that I don’t think that I will ever look upon the same way as I have before the mission started. I really, really have a deep appreciation for plants, for life in general on our unique planet.

Fresh tomatoes are pictured growing inside the CHAPEA habitat. Credit: NASA
Fresh tomatoes are pictured growing inside the CHAPEA habitat. Credit: NASA

Of course, we also continued our exercise and I pretty much love every single moment of it. I really enjoy exercising and it’s surprisingly thorough, the amount of exercise you can get with only three pieces of equipment that have a very small footprint.  And the exercise is really designed to maintain the strength and the level of fitness that we came into the mission with. What I’m looking forward in 2024 is really a successful end to this mission. And providing space exploration with sufficient information, or at least as much as we can, to get us closer and closer to the goal of having a human being step on the surface of Mars and be really prepared for it. And I’m really just, every single moment that I spent here, I realize how privileged I am to be here. And, as for what is coming up this next month, I think it’s very interesting that January brings this perspective that we’ve completed half of the mission and it’s opening a new world of possibilities. And we’re all very excited to go on EVAs and do good science and data collection. And of course I look forward to seeing my friends again back on Earth. That’s it for me for now, and I wish all of you a wonderful and happy and healthy New Year

Host: Alright, that was Science Officer Anca Selariu. You know, among all of the four crew members, one thing that I found particularly interesting is, some of them recorded before that halfway point, December 31 and some of them after. And there seems to be something bringing forward that, something about 2024, something about passing that halfway point. For those that recorded afterwards, there is this reflection on, appreciating the mission and looking forward to the mission, but bringing up more prominently than in previous recordings, looking towards that end point. And Kelly even mentioned this for her audio log earlier in this podcast. But, now there’s something about 2024 where all of them, I think, are going to be looking forward to returning to Earth. And it’s certainly an interesting theme to pull.

Anca talking about the gift exchanges and festivities and appreciation there. I think it was something that was really important to the crew to have that, maintaining that positive energy.

Was very much looking forward to hearing what Anca was going to name those crops. And “Minty Nefario,” you can’t really get better than that. I found, though, what was interesting was that appreciation of the crops not just as a practical measure or as a supplement to the palette that we’ve heard from other crew members, but really appreciating the smell. And, not only appreciating the crops that are there in CHAPEA, but Anca reflecting on a potentially long-term impact of appreciation of life on Earth. I found that particularly fascinating.

Of course, loving that exercise. Talking about the three pieces of equipment and the diversity of the exercise is something that I don’t think we’ve heard. But we did hear from Peter and Alyssa earlier in this podcast, those equipment and what they can do. So it is interesting to hear that again, not only is it something that is needed, but the crew really looks forward to the exercise and I think is an important part of life on Mars. One thing that I think is a theme is the science of the mission. She never lost sight of it and I don’t think will. Looking forward to the good science, knows that the mission is producing good science, and understanding of what life is like on Mars, and really keeping that close hold in the drive of her mission as the Science Officer. So it was great to hear from Anca and the rest of the crew for audio log number six. And that’ll do it from the crew and Dune Alpha.

Thanks for sticking around and listening to this audio log, the sixth in our installment of audio logs. We are now halfway through. I really hope you’re enjoying the crew’s journey. This is again, the sixth audio log in our series and we’ll continue to follow along with the crew’s journey through the duration of their mission that ends this summer. Tune in once a month to check back in. You can check out for the latest on what’s going on with CHAPEA, the latest imagery and science features happening there. And if you like the podcast, we are on as well as many other shows across the agency. If you want to talk to us in particular, Houston We Have a Podcast, we are on the NASA Johnson Space Center, pages of Facebook, X, and Instagram. And you can use #AskNASA on your favorite platform to submit an idea for the show. Just make sure to mention it is for us at Houston We Have a Podcast.

Recordings were sent from the CHAPEA crew through December and January of 2023 and 2024 respectively. And we had the conversation with Peter and Alyssa on December 19, 2023. Thanks to Will Flato, Dane Turner, Abby Graf, Jaden Jennings, Dominique Crespo, and Anna Schneider. Thanks to Peter Schneider and Alyssa Varanoske for taking the time to come on the show. Thanks to Grace Douglas and Jennifer Miller for their efforts in reviewing these audio log episodes. And big thanks of course to Kelly Haston, Ross Brockwell, Nathan Jones and Anca Selariu for sharing their experience for this audience on Houston We Have a Podcast. Give us a rating and feedback on whatever platform you’re listening to us on and tell us what you think of our podcast. We’ll be back next week.