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Mars Audio Log #8

Season 1Episode 329Mar 29, 2024

The CHAPEA crew checks in on their eighth month in a Mars simulated habitat and a NASA biostatistician discusses the process of analysis, interpretation, and presentation of scientific data. HWHAP Episode 329.

Houston We Have a Podcast Ep. 329: Mars Audio Log #8

HWHAP Ep. 329: Mars Audio Log #8

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 329, the CHAPEA crew checks in on their eighth month in a Mars simulated habitat and a NASA biostatistician discusses the process of analysis, interpretation, and presentation of scientific data. This is the eighth audio log of a monthly series. Recordings were sent from the CHAPEA crew throughout February 2024. The conversation with Dr. Young was recorded on February 6, 2024.

Inspired by the CHAPEA Mission 1 crew and want to be a part of an analog like this? If you are interested and think you have what it takes to take on this yearlong challenge and contribute to our understanding of what it will take to support human missions to Mars, applications for the next mission, CHAPEA Mission 2, are open. Visit to fill out an application. Applications are due April 2, 2024.

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Host (Gary Jordan): Houston, we have a podcast! Welcome to the official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center, Episode 329, “Mars Audio Log #8.” I’m Gary Jordan, and 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 are 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. And we’re lucky enough to have monthly check-ins with the crew Commander Kelly Haston, Fight 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 eighth month in the habitat, which is here at the NASA Johnson Space Center, and was recorded in February 2024.

We’re also bringing on a special guest to learn even more about CHAPEA. This month is on another angle of scientific research: biostatistics. We’ve reviewed a number of different investigations happening in CHAPEA from crop production to food science, nutrition, exercise, behavioral sciences, and more. Scientists in these respective fields are of course, gathering data during the CHAPEA mission. But built into the scientific process is not only collecting the data, but starting from the ground with the experimental design on how data is collected to best answer the research questions. Then there is the analysis, the interpretation, and the presentation of the data to summarize the results of the experiments helping the scientists to get the most out of their data are the biostatisticians. And Dr. Millennia Young is one of those biostatisticians based here at the Johnson Space Center, providing statistical support to research and medical operations here for the past 10 years. So, with that, let’s learn more from the CHAPEA crew on how they’re doing and from Millennia on the CHAPEA biostatistics. Let’s get into it.


Host: 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 for NASA. So far, the mission has been going really well, and even though I say this every month when we’re doing these audio logs for Houston We Have a Podcast, I hate to say it, but I’m going to be boring and say it once more again this month. So I have to say that I am amazed, constantly amazed, by the engagement and the enthusiasm that we get both inside the hab, from the crew and also from our colleagues on the other side of the analog that are supporting us from the Earth side. And it’s really been just a delight and a true honor to be part of such a committed group of people that are doing such a great job. We are really just chugging along and, you know, check marking our milestones, which I’ll talk about a little bit again at the end. So it’s been truly a delight so far.

Some of the highlights of the last month. So I must confess that January, which was a month where we had quite a different schedule than we had gotten used to pre prior to that, where we were really used to being outside a fair bit, doing our Extravehicular activities, or EVAs, where we either, you know, we accomplish tasks that are given to us in our mission log. We had really developed a pattern, leading up to January, but January had a slightly different schedule for various reasons and was quieter in a lot of ways and much more habitat-based. So we were inside a lot more. And January, for that reason, amongst others, felt very long to me. So I’m really delighted to say that February, one of the highlights of February, is that it’s moving very fast and we’ve been a little busier. So that’s been really, really nice. We also are more towards our normal schedule, which I really enjoy. I do really, really love going outside and doing the EVAs that we get to do. So that’s been a real delight.

But we have had some other highlights. We have celebrated a few minor milestones, you know, of sort of time passing and so forth. But at the beginning of the year, after sort of the celebratory season of December and the new year, we realized that we had a big long gap in celebrations. So we actually arbitrarily picked a sort of weekend in the middle of February to have a celebration, and it ended up coinciding with the Super Bowl and happily, after a request, the mission was able to actually supply us with a one-time viewing of the Super Bowl. So, we decorated the habitat for it in a very tropically themed, decoration, which maybe doesn’t make sense for the Super Bowl, but it was what we had, and it was very festive. We had a special meal. Our engineer made us some special treats, which was a combination of some of the foods that we already had in the have, but combined in a special way that he had come up with. So it was really, really a fun night of watching the game, and it was a great game. So that made it even better. And then that weekend we had an additional celebration, just sort of like the original one that we had planned. So it really meant that this, the middle of February, had a very festive feeling week that felt really great to experience. So I would say that that was definitely a big highlight for me of the past month.

Kelly Haston: We also actually had some really great builds out on the Martian surface. So I would say some of the stuff we’ve done in the last month has been really, really fun. Really, really unique items that really challenged the crew and I think the crew really enjoyed building them. So that was another great highlight for us, you know, as we sort of move through this mission. I think about what I’ve done in times previous. I’m a stem cell biologist by training. I use human stem cells to build models of either development or disease, and I can make cell types like brain cells or liver cells or germ cells, but like sperm and eggs. So those are all things that I’ve studied in the past in my career.

But one question we also get asked is what drew us to science in the first place? So I have a non-traditional background in that I left school when I was 15, so I only completed grade nine. I ended up coming back to school when I was quite a bit older, after 12 years. So I started off at a community college, and there, you know, I took a plethora of classes. I didn’t really know what I was interested in at the beginning, but the science classes pretty quickly popped out. I had some really great professors. My biology, my chemistry, and my organic chemistry professors stood out for me and really encouraged me as I started to think about transferring to a four-year institution to get my undergrad degree in thinking about research. But at first, I was thinking more along the lines of like a medical profession as my end goal. But, as I said, they really encouraged me. So once I transferred to UC Berkeley, I actually got into research right away. And I was lucky enough to land in a lab that was studying the effects of pesticides and other environmental factors on gonad development in frogs. There was the lab of Tyrone Hayes, and in particular, there was a postdoc in Tyrone’s lab called Anhthu Hoang. She and the professor and all of the scientists in the lab really brought me along, spent a tremendous amount of time talking to me about science, encouraging me. I ended up spending so much time in my lab, like I lived in my lab during my undergrad years after I got to Berkeley. And by the time I completed my first experiment, I knew that I was going to go to grad school and not go to med school.  I just loved it. I loved being in the lab. I loved doing experiments and then seeing the results. And even to this day, if I realize that I haven’t actually, you know, checked my cells on a given day, if I didn’t have anything to do with them, I will. Even if I’m leaving the building and I’m already packed up for the day, I will go back in and check my cells. I love seeing the results that you get from your experiments still.

So some of the things that I’ve done, I’ve been very lucky in my career to have some really special things. I came into my grad school work right around the time that stem cells were really taking off as a way to model human development and disease. We were lucky enough to be moving from a period where we used embryonic stem cells to what we call pluripotent stem cells, which is something where we can actually make a stem cell line from a piece of a cell from any part of your body. So it really opened up the technology and enabled us to actually create cell lines from anybody of interest, so people with certain diseases and spread that field out. And it’s become a very powerful technique, and I’ve been lucky enough to work in that field now for 20 years. But I would say that I also really, really loved the work that I did originally in with the frog work at Berkeley, where we were really looking at do environmental factors, get in the way of proper development, or alternatively, do they cause diseases to form? And so I was lucky enough to be part of a pivotal set of publications that came out of Tyrone’s lab where we were showing that certain pesticides that were in the environment feminized male frogs. And this is a serious thing that could actually also be true in humans. We were doing it in the frogs first because there are reasons to use particular models, which I won’t go into on this podcast. But it was exciting to be part of some of the earlier publications along with others in that field that were really pointing at, “Hey, we need to look at our environment and make sure that it’s actually not impacting our normal development and our normal health.” And that’s true of us, and it’s also true of the animals that are in our biosphere. So I think that that has really, in the years since then, we’ve seen a real interest in this field. And I think that I was super excited to actually be part of that. So I think that that’s a real standout for me, in terms of my early science, being something that made me really inspired me to continue to think about science as something that can help people a lot.

Kelly Haston: If I was to sort of think about the types of experiments that I’d want to do, though, on either Mars or the Moon, somewhere in space, and there’s already some work being done in this area that I’m really interested in and have talked to people about. But one of the companies I worked for early on after I finished my postdoctoral research was a company that focused on miniaturization of systems to study cellular biology. Why I think this is important is that it lowers the cost of your experiments. It makes them, in general, a little bit more controllable. But it also just makes it a small footprint of where you’re going to do your experiments. And I think that if I was to work on something for space in the future, which I hope I will, that idea of building automated miniature systems where we can test cellular biology in different environments is one that has appealed to me across my career and has been part of my career, but is really appealing to me in terms of the type of experiment I would want to do on Mars.

I think that it’s critical that we have as many systems as possible that we can use to test things before we go as a whole human being. I think that building an automated system that takes into account sort of, it’s a closed system where you can test things like how do your muscle cells or your liver cells or your brain cells respond to these different challenges of being in space is really critically important. And can iterate on this in so many different ways. You can make a system where you can combine tissue types so that they talk to each other and you can see the impact of a system rather than just one cell type, et cetera. But I think the idea would be that we would want to build both the automated system that would actually do this work for us, and also a methodology for an analysis so that we can actually send up something that potentially is enabled by machine learning aspects or other automated analysis methodologies as well.  And then what we can do is we can digitize the results and send them back in a smaller form. If we were, for instance, taking images, because images are really big data, but if we can actually digitize it in some way, analyze it, and then just send results back, we can actually make a lot more data and then bring it back to Earth. And then at that point, we will have ways to determine whether that’s actually good data or not when we send that system up. So I think that that combined aspect of both the physical system you need to do the experiments and also the analysis aspects that you need to need to have in place so that you actually can reduce the data requirements of these experiments in space. Those are two i ideas that I’m super interested in thinking about in a setting like Mars.

I think that anything that we can do ahead of time where we’re studying cell types from humans in these settings will help us make some good decisions about where to put the research efforts in the future for building mitigation strategies for, you know, harmful aspects of space travel for humans. And I think that that’s a critical area that I really love thinking about and really would love to be a part of as I go back to my normal life as a stem cell biologist.

(From left) Ross Brockwell, Nathan Jones, and Kelly Haston share a meal together inside the habitat. Not pictured is Anca Selariu, who was taking the photo. Credit: NASA
(From left) Ross Brockwell, Nathan Jones, and Kelly Haston share a meal together inside the habitat. Not pictured is Anca Selariu, who was taking the photo. Credit: NASA

Kelly Haston: Finally, what is coming up in our next month? So our next month, we’ll have a lot of exciting stuff, but also a lot of our norms. So we will be doing more of our outside activities, our EVAs, we’ll also be doing some inside remote-controlled missions So those are both pretty exciting and really fun. We actually are now sort of starting to really mark some of the things that we’re doing for the last time, the penultimate time, or the last time. And I think that those are really special for us. And, and as the mission moves closer to its finish line, I think that we’ll really start to hit some of those. So we have some milestones like 250 days coming up, which is a big one, but we also have some smaller ones like the last time you do, you know, a given activity. And those will be, I think, very important for the crew to celebrate as we move through this last set of months of the mission. So I think that that’s going to be great on top of the activities that are planned for us by mission control and we’re really looking forward to it. So with that, I thank everyone for the continued interest and I hope you’re having a great day on Earth.

Host: Alright, that was Commander Kelly Haston kicking us off. Good to hear that the crew is still maintaining that fantastic enthusiasm, and it sounds like a little bit has to do with the fact that they are more busy. It’s funny how that translates. The busier they are and the more occupied they are, the happier the crew seems to be. But even with everything going on in the month of February, it was nice to hear that the crew got to enjoy the Super Bowl and really add to that list. They talked about combining some of their foods for a special Super Bowl meal. If you’ve been listening to these audio logs, this is something that they started way back. I think even during month one, they started combining foods and making a running list of the different kinds of food combinations for Mars. I wonder how big that list is today.

They mentioned some of the projects that they’re doing, and it sounds like—and we’ve visited this a couple of times—some of those projects are these construction projects, which is interesting in terms of how we think about and characterize a mission to Mars. Early International Space Station missions were part of the assembly phase, so maybe it’s reminiscent of some of those days.

You heard Kelly go into a lot of detail about some of the thoughts about her background in STEM, as well as some ideas about how to improve life in the habitat this month. We asked them some biographical questions and you could tell just from Kelly’s answer, really, I mean, she went into a lot of detail about the science, but really what came across to me was just how passionate she is about science. And this is something that I think is true for any crew member that becomes an astronaut. It’s true of the class of astronauts that just graduated as part of our 2024 class. Hopefully you got to listen to that episode. And a common theme, if you listen to the many interviews we had across all 12 of them, was just they were passionate about what they were doing. I think this is a common theme for anyone that wants to become an astronaut or join an analog mission just like this. Just like CHAPEA, at the very end of the episode, we’ll talk about exactly where to go to apply to become a CHAPEA crew member. Those applications are open this month.

Okay, again, that was Commander Kelly Haston. Let’s now go to CHAPEA mission Flight Engineer Ross Brockwell.

Ross Brockwell: Hello, this is Ross Brockwell. I’m the flight engineer for CHAPEA Mission 1 for Houston We Have a Podcast. “How is everything going?” It’s still going great. Same as before. Maybe even a little better. In fact, I think we’ve smoothed out a couple of little things, hit a pretty good rhythm. And with where we are on the mission, it’s pretty cool. You know, we have a lot of experience and accomplishments behind us, but we can kind of see the end on the horizon, but there’s still good ways to go. So there’s plenty of time, I think still, to savor the experience and probably see a few new things along the way.

“Tell us about some of the highlights and activities of the last month.” It was a good month. We passed three fifths. We passed T-150 days. It was a pretty interesting milestone. We had a couple new EVA challenges that were cool and we had a special day. We got to watch the Super Bowl, so it was really cool then to beam that to us. We all do think that was mission-realistic. I mean, it’s a significant delay for it and it didn’t really disrupt mission communications the way they would do it. So, I think that’s something that would be really important and a real mission. And it was really significant to us. It was a lot of fun. It was a really meaningful connection to home, and it was a really good game. But it was really cool. It was a lot of fun. We really enjoyed it.

For me, what originally drew me to engineering as a career? I always wanted to build things. I had a lot of interests when I was young and I had a lot of things I was considering as career choices. One being an astronaut, in fact, I was, you know, always wanted to be an astronaut when I was young and really wanted to fly. But I had a lot of other interests too. And I thought engineering would be a good choice to study formally as a good base for a lot of fields. And it was probably something I wouldn’t be able to teach myself very thoroughly or, you know, casually. So I chose to study it. I really did want to build things. I wanted to build cities and transportation networks. And I was definitely interested in building space stations and Mars spaces. And I remember reading about the concept of the space elevator, you know, building down from geosynchronous orbit and keeping the center of mass in orbit. Just an amazing concept and know technically possible, but an incredible engineering challenge and materials challenge. And those kinds of things were always fascinating to me. So I wanted to study it.

Ross Brockwell: “What’s an experience for my time as a structural engineer that I could share maybe has an important lesson?” A lot. So it’s really gratifying to see a project come to life that you’ve helped conceive of and design. And I remember one in particular when I was pretty young, a project I had been working on that had been frustrating. And it was in New Jersey, and I was kind of on a road trip, you know, at some time later. And I got a chance to go check it out. And I just remember being really proud of how it had come together and seeing the differences between what was, you know, in my mind from having looked at it only on paper because it was so far away from where I was designing it physically. And it’s just really neat, really satisfying, but also a lot of lessons about finding a good balance between planning and trying to think of all contingencies and all angles and getting going on something. You know, the whole idea of paralysis by analysis can be debilitating, where you don’t move forward cause you’re trying to think of everything. But on the other hand, a complete lack of foresight and perspective can lead to dangerous mistakes and it can lead to missed opportunities for real innovation and efficiency and breakthroughs. So the lesson there is to try to find a good balance for each situation.

And it’s also true that the things you have to work the hardest for, that you learn the most by working through, are usually the most deeply satisfying. That’s an age-old lesson, but it’s very true. And in engineering, also working with the builders and the people that are going to use your projects and learning the ramifications of your design choices firsthand is hugely important. So it lets you know how important it’s to think about things in whole systems and design for an entire life cycle. From sourcing it to building it, to using it, to deconstructing it. Not just thinking about parts and your single objectives in my area of specialization.

“What experiments would I want do on Mars and how would I see them helping humanity?” I’ve said this before, but I’m really interested in the whole idea of the design of the self-sufficient closed loop system that’s going to be necessary for us to live on Mars.  And I think working on that, working on the challenges of getting to Mars and surviving there will help again, they’ll help unite us and I think they will help us recognize the special complexity and value of our ecosystems, how we’re just a part. And we have some responsibilities in that part. And, you know, Earth itself is really not a closed system if you think about it. There’s an energy necessity that comes from the Sun and really unfathomable amount of energy every day that we get from the Sun. And we take it for granted. And I think working on smaller versions of that concept will help humanity understand how to be better stewards of the system we are a part of. I’m super interested in the init resource utilization concept. I mean, I’d really love to do experiments on building things with the materials available on Mars, figure out exactly what we should bring with this to help us do that.  I’m interested in building out infrastructure on Mars and maybe experimenting with robotic construction, how successful it could be and super interested in experiments in flight in the Martian atmosphere. And I think a lot about the countermeasures for the biophysical challenges we’ll face, you know, some ideas about kind of harness systems and tracks maybe for the space station or for lunar or Mars-base, where you could still be mobile within your habitat, but it would apply some loading to your skeletal system to combat bone density loss. Lots of experiments like that. Experiments and radiation protection all really super interesting to me. So I’d love to take part in that.

“What’s coming up in the next month?” Another couple milestones. So mission day 250 is coming up, which is mind boggling. Two thirds around the same time, T-100 days, and we get another crop harvest soon. So obviously we’re all really excited about that. So lots to look forward to and we’ll see you next month.

Host: Again, that was Ross Brockwell, the CHAPEA mission flight engineer. It’s good to hear that he also feels like things are getting actually better is what he talked about. And that sort of resonates with me from the fact that he talked about there being a rhythm for the crew. And I feel like there’s a certain comfort that comes with the repeated tasks and the predictability of a mission. Of course, there’s going to be unpredictable things that happen and new things that the crew is excited for. You remember Kelly looking forward to new things next month, but having that sense of comfort, it almost feels like home. And I think that’s an important thing if you’re going to be spending a long time on a different planet to have that routine established as part of living and working on a different planet. It was great to hear Ross’s perspective on engineering and his passion for it.

He talked about different anecdotes and lessons learned from being an engineer that he’d applies to some of the thoughts and processes for his time here in CHAPEA. One thing that really resonated with me was just those lessons that he talked about, that he carries forward, an important lesson in engineering for me. I think really what I take away was the fact that if you’re passionate about something and you’re have these challenges that you encounter along the way, maybe you have this sense and some of the things he was talking about just seems, you know, almost scary in a way. You know, you presented with big challenges. The idea is to just press forward and do the job and learn from those mistakes and overcome those challenges. And that’s how you become a better engineer, a better worker. And it can be applied to engineering. But I sort of resonate with it because I think it’s something that is important to imply into anything really that you’re doing. So that was Kelly Haston and Ross Brockwell providing their audio logs for this month. We have two more crew members to go, but first let’s take a pause and speak with Millennia Young about the biostatistics of CHAPEA and what exactly that means. Millennia Young, thank you so much for coming on Houston We Have a Podcast.

Millennia Young: No problem. Good to be here.

Host: Yeah, you do some wonderful and interesting work and I am going to learn all about it right now because we were just talking ahead of the podcast here. We’ve never really dove into statistics very much, let alone biostatistics. I think part of the reason is it’s not something we commonly stumble upon when we’re looking for folks to talk to especially at NASA. When you think of NASA, you don’t really think of statistics at least at face value. But maybe you can bring some light into that. Millennia, I wanted to start with a little bit about how you got to where you are right now, doing statistics at NASA. Was there something in your childhood that sparked a love of math?

Millennia Young: I love math. Math and science. They have an answer, right? And it makes sense. I can never figure out in the humanities like what the intended correct answer was, why it was the correct answer, cause there’s always multiple perspectives, right? There’s a whole lot of gray between the black and white. And I can never pick up on what the teacher thought was the most important thing, right? But math, the answer is the answer. Even if that answer is does not exist.

Host: Ha. Right. Which is an answer, right?

Millennia Young: It is an answer.

Host: So statistics in a way helped you to get a better grasp of the world around you. It’s almost like a language for understanding the world around you.

Millennia Young: Yes. But I didn’t find out about statistics until like my senior year of college, not really. So I studied math.

Host: But you loved math earlier.

Millennia Young: Yeah. So I got my degree in applied math and then we did a capstone project, which is they give you hard, interesting projects in your field. And you work on them. And one of them happened to be statistics, and I was like, “This is the same.” Like, you’re talking about using mathematical representations of the world, but statistics is talking about expectations and probability and uncertainty. I was like, “Useful things.”

Dr. Millennia Young, biostatistician at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz
Dr. Millennia Young, biostatistician at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz


Host: Yeah.

Millennia Young: So that’s what triggered me to study statistics.

Host: So at what point did the statistics marry with the NASA world? Was this even a world that you thought you could enter or did you have—You stumbled upon it. Okay.

Millennia Young: Yeah. So I started an a statistics master’s after my applied math bachelor’s. And I decided, I got into research, statistical research, and I was like, “Yeah, this is me, I’m going to do this,” and my professor actually recommended Rice University. I had no idea how good it was. So I walked in there and I nailed that interview. Cool. All cool as a cucumber. And I got in, nice. And it’s been fantastic. And I did a little bit in finance before. I did make some corporations some more money. But I didn’t find that fulfilling. And I’m glad I did that in between because I realized I didn’t want to do finance, I wanted to do life. I wanted to do biostatistics.

Host: And since you were doing that here in Houston, Rice University, NASA was right there in the backyard.

Millennia Young: Yeah. But it was sort of luck, right?

Host: It was? Okay.

Millennia Young: I saw the contractor position open for statistics and it wasn’t really clear what they were doing, but I was in a phase that I was applying for everything cause I knew I didn’t want to do grants. I didn’t like the publisher parish of the academic environment. I wanted to do research. I just got lucky. I rolled into an interview and I found out it was NASA. I was like, “Wow, this is really cool. Now I really want it.”

Host: I wonder what that job description said. So when they were looking for someone to do statistics at NASA, what is it exactly that they were looking for?

Millennia Young: They were looking for statistical expertise, but they were also looking for modeling expertise for the integrated medical model, which is a simulation model. And that jargon, there were so many acronyms and so much jargon. I was like—

Host: Yeah, jargon.


Millennia Young: I don’t know what this is. So I applied for the senior epidemiologist position instead. cause that made sense.

Host: Oh, really? Okay.

Millennia Young: But when I walked into the interview, they’re like, “You’re a statistician. We want to interview for the other one.” And I was like, “But that one doesn’t make sense to me.” And they’re like, “But you’re okay with being interviewed for it?” I was like, “Sure.” But then that was great cause I got to ask them what those things meant. What they were trying to say. And I could translate it to actual statistical language. It was like an engineer wrote it.

Host: There you go. So now that you have a better grasp, and you’ve been in the role now for how long?

Millennia Young: Well, that was my first role at NASA.

Host: Ah, okay. So you’ve done some more stuff ever since. Okay. But now you have a better grasp of what statistics at NASA really means. And particularly, and we’ll dive into this cause you talked that when you’re doing statistics, it’s for the scope of understanding the human element of human spaceflight. And so when someone asks you what exactly do you do and how you use statistics, how do you usually characterize that?

Millennia Young: So even starting with that first position where I was like half a simulation modeler, that part of me was about predicting medical risks in flight. So we simulated whether people got different medical conditions and what they might need to treat them and how it might impact the mission to calculate those things. So that’s one area. The other area was working for the epidemiology group, but is sort of doing occupational surveillance of the astronaut health, like astronaut health during the mission, around the mission and long term. What does it look like? How does it compare to terrestrial populations? Although they’re not normal people, they’re driven high achieving. So it’s hard to find comparison groups for them.

Host: That’s fair enough. So, okay, you got your entrance and then you mentioned that was your first job and now what’s the role you have?

Millennia Young: So now I am in the biostatistics lab. So now I work mostly on research studies, although I do help out the epidemiology group occasionally, too.

Host: Okay. Probably because of your expertise. So if you were to describe day to day, or just general overview of your role now doing biostatistics, what exactly does that entail?

Millennia Young: So I get to analyze all the data from all the different backgrounds and disciplines. I think my scientific discipline is the best because it gets to touch all the pies.


All of them. So today I was looking at MRI images of brain shifts. Well, not the images, the numbers from it, to see if there were brain shifts in flight, like pre- to post-flight and how those compare to people who are just on the ground for the same amount of time. Because I think one of the big criticisms, like looking at change in flight is like, “Well, what if they just aged? What if that’s just normal half a year aging?” Because it’s really hard. We’re looking at healthy people. We’re trying to keep them healthy and the people who get imaged out in the world are the people that aren’t healthy that are having some sort of issue. And that’s what’s causing them to get imaging.

Host: I see. Okay. So if I were to continue to describe your role, you can correct me along the way. Are you doing your own research or are you working with scientists to help make sense of other research?

Millennia Young: So mostly, I am collaborating with other scientists here, other disciplines here as their statistical backbone. But we are doing a little bit of our own methods development now cause we want to do more machine learning and AI, but we have to augment cause our data’s special. It really is. It’s unique compared to the outside world. We we’re not some big bank who’s gotten millions of customers that might repeat in two or three times, or a store where you might have some regulars, but a lot of people just come on one time. We follow these people intensely and take lots of measurements of them over time. And there’s very few of them. And if we ignore things like the way that data was captured, we might look at the data and grab the data today and say, “Look, it’s mostly male, so we should pick males.” When that’s just an artifact of the way they were selected in history.

Host: This is where making sense of the data is that much more important because your sample size is way smaller than what you, like you said, folks in the outside world are working with. And that’s where you really have to dig into the nuances of those stats to make sure that when you are coming up with an interpretation of the statistics, that it actually makes sense. So you do really deep dives. Am I characterizing this correctly?

Millennia Young: Yes, right. Cause we want to make sure there’s no bias. So if there’s younger people and older people and we’re looking at opinions and it happens that the younger people and the older people differ. Like say if they’re comparing two different exercise devices they want to use, and if they really, really differ, but you have more older people, then the data itself will say, pick what the older people like. Unless you account for that difference, then you’ll be like, “Well, the younger people like this and the older people like that, who’s most likely to be using it?” to make a decision.

Host: I mean this is probably the complicated part of your job. There’s not really a cut and dry. Here’s the formula that you input for when data comes in. You as a statistician are actively working with the data to make those corrections along the way.

Millennia Young: Well, hopefully they ask us when they’re designing the study and then we say, “Hey, think about these things. Did you think about the role that gender might play? Did you think about what age might play? Can we try to balance the design across these things to make sure that we get a good sample?”

Host: When you first started at NASA, did you find yourself more in a reactive state to the researchers and then started becoming more ingrained into the experimental design so that it was thought about upfront? Is that something that you initiated or maybe that was already established by the time you came?

Millennia Young: Well, when I started in the epi group, that’s observational data. So that’s not a study. You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.


Host: Okay.

Millennia Young: You understand that you have biases. So sometimes you can do different statistical methods to sort of adjust for those biases, but I’m careful when I make statements. The engineering statisticians really like to use upper confidence limits to be conservative. So they’re like, “We need a 97th and a half percentile to be below X to know that we’re pretty safe.” And I’m always like, “I don’t want to use those tails cause those tails are a function of sample size.” And it’s always going to look like my women are worse cause their tails are bigger. Just because there’s less of them and that’s not a true fact of their risk.

Host: And so you have to stand there and fight and to say, “You know, this is how you really should be thinking about the data from a statistician standpoint.”

Millennia Young: Yeah. I’m like, “I won’t do that with humans. You can do that with rockets. I’m not doing that with humans.”

Host: There you go. You’re very passionate about this. I guess you have to be, right?

Millennia Young: You have to be, or they won’t listen. People can get really bogged down in the uncertainty and act like we don’t really know anything. And I’m like, but this is our best guess. So we should probably go with that.

Host: And so this is the important thing when you’re thinking about characterizing human data. You and I talked about this a little bit ahead of time. You know, like you just said, you can do that with a rocket. Cause they do need to operate within the black and white, either pass or fail. This rocket works or it explodes. So you have to think of that mindset. There’s a lot of gray when it comes to working with data for humans.

Millennia Young: Yeah.

Host: If I’m not characterizing it right.

Millennia Young: Correct. Yeah. You want to improve things. But also, humans can consent, right? So if you can give them proper information, like this is your risk, I think people can make some of those decisions themselves. We don’t need to decide for them.

Host: Ah, okay. Right. So is it just you doing the statistics or you have a group?

Millennia Young: So I have a group. A very small group. I have a data wrangler. He’s like a cowboy. He brings together horribly formatted data from individual people, like on their lab notebooks and makes them beautiful, tabular, useable, coding-wise. Which is great. And then two other statisticians. So there’s three of us.

Host: Okay. Three of you put working with everybody, right? Like you said, working all of human research.

Millennia Young: That’s why we can’t help people outside of NASA. Sorry, you guys are swamped as it is. I know you guys send us emails and I try to respond, but there’s three of us.

Host: Your time working with all of the different data across human research. Is there a theme? Is there a learning curve? Is there something that, when you’re working with all the different research, you try to encourage others to consider from a statistical perspective? Cause I’m sure that’s maybe not something that all the researchers consider right up front.

Millennia Young: No. So if they do their own stats, I can’t tell you how many times they forget to account for repeated measures within the same people. So I’m always like, “No, that’s the part you need me for and I’ll help you with that.” But I feel like that’s where our juice is in this fruit. We’re seeing how people change over time. And that’s where we’re getting the most information.

Host: So study wise, when it comes to human research and some of the things you do, are you doing research? You’re seeing research from above the International Space Station? Are you also working with research in different analogs? What are some of the things that you receive then?

Millennia Young: All of them. Antarctica. The mice.

Host: Okay.

Millennia Young: The plants in space. Like how light—

Host: Actually all of them.

Millennia Young: Cells being irradiated to see what damage they do. So yeah, we can hit all kinds of data.

Host: Oh, man. You’re right in the middle of all the action. That’s spectacular. Now when CHAPEA came up, tell me about that. Whenever they were like, “Hey, we’re designing this study called CHAPEA, we’re going to put humans in a habitat for a year,” when were you approached?

Millennia Young: Immediately.

Host: Oh, fantastic.

Millennia Young: In the beginning. So this is the first analog where they really got us all in a room, every discipline and statistics and said, “Let’s do an integrated study. Let’s do it together. Let’s see how these measures go together.” Cause the other analogs, people pitch ideas, right? So they’re competing and they may not know about each other, although they’re running all in this same group.

Host: In isolation. Yeah. In silos.

Millennia Young: Right. So CHAPEA is special in that we’re getting all these immune and exercise and EVA and behavioral health, all of them together. And I got to be there to be like, “Let’s make sure the timing’s good. We want them in a close enough window to each other, the measures so that we can really see how things are trending together.” But at the same time, not so close that they’re ruining each other, right? If you get faint from a blood draw, you’re going to want to save that for last. You’re not going to want to do that before you take the SATs.

Host: Right. Not do a blood draw and then go exercise.

Millennia Young: You don’t want to affect downstream measures.

Host: So the approach you were taking with the integrated study is focusing on that timing to make sure your data was going to be pretty good coming in.

Millennia Young: And giving them like “This is how you set up a tidy data set.” But also if you don’t know how to do this, don’t track stuff around in Excel. I’ll get Thomas, the data wrangler, to fix it.

Host: The guy who makes things look really good. That’s the cowboy. The guy’s the cowboy. Perfect. So,  this must have been wonderful for you guys because you got to be part of the experimental design. And so you have a pretty good understanding of what kinds of data is coming in and maybe how it fits into the puzzles pieces that you need to create to finish the puzzle.

Millennia Young: Yes. And with this first mission, you know, nothing’s ever perfect. Nothing ever goes perfectly to plan. So as little things happen, they call me in to make sure that I know and that I’ve got a plan for handling it within the data, or what do we think is the best recourse going forward? And we’re able to fix and smooth those things. And I’m just so excited. Every week I’m like, “They collected this, this, and that.”


Host: So it sounds like your day-to-day for CHAPEA is maybe a little bit of those course corrections along the way. Making those little asterisks next to the data point. So, you know, at the very end, but really your job is going to start after CHAPEA. So you’re still doing your day-to-day stuff of analyzing all the other pieces. That never stops. It’s a small team of three. So of course, you can’t just dedicate yourself to CHAPEA. Now this question I’ve been asking a lot of our special guests that come on these audio log episodes, and you’ve sort of answered it, but just to add onto it is why a study like CHAPEA is so great for the research community. You’ve already addressed the integrated nature of it, and I think you’ve already addressed the fact that getting to be a part of it from the very beginning was that much more special. So I guess, you know, this is probably something you would probably want to repeat. Going forward for future analogs, for future studies, please involve the statisticians.

Millennia Young: It really helps. It’s really nice. So CHAPEA is great in that yes, we’re randomizing these things so that they’re balanced. We don’t really know if some results are generalizable until they replicate in another group.

Host: So this leads perfectly into my last question here, which I’m asking my guests the same exact question. You know, CHAPEA is a great integrated mission, has a sample size of four, and you already said you’re working with small sample sizes. That’s like your job, right? The importance of repeating a study like this so you get more sample sizes and you can flush out the data to have a better understanding.

Millennia Young: It’s very important. Very important. Because it could be a one-off, right? I mean, you’re not supposed to win the lottery when you buy just one ticket. But sometimes you do.


Host: But you shouldn’t bet on it.

Millennia Young: Yeah, definitely not.

Host: You shouldn’t. This is all I need. This is my retirement plan. Yeah. One lottery ticket. There you go. Okay. Understood. Well, Millennia, you have brought such energy to this conversation. I definitely see the importance of statisticians in human research. And I hope that folks listening to this also see the same benefit. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing your energy and expertise.

Millennia Young: Thank you for inviting me.

Host: Thanks again. That was Millennia Young on biostatistics, a great conversation. I’ve learned so much about what that was. Now we have two more audio logs to go. So let’s first start with Medical Officer Nathan Jones.

Nathan Jones: Hello, my name is Nate Jones. I’m the medical officer of CHAPEA Mission 1. Everything is still going very well. One notable thing for me is that I have the privilege of trialing parenting with a 20-minute time delay each way. Well, this past month, my oldest son needed to wear a tie for an event. Neither he nor my wife knew how to tie one. So my wife sent an OS one evening asking me to send a video to teach him how to do it. Due to the time delays, though I got the request just to lights out as I was getting ready for bed. And there aren’t many, if any, occasions for wearing a tie on Mars so far. So I didn’t bring one with me. What I did have though was a couple of pairs of knee high socks. One was clean, the other I had worn on an EVA earlier that day and they smelled pretty ripe, but it was all I had to work with. So I tied three socks together and made a video showing my son how to tie a tie. It ended up working pretty well. My son was able to tie a tie for the first time using the stinky sock video that I sent him.

Aside from that, this last month we had Valentine’s Day, 250 million miles away from home. The flowers that I ordered for my wife almost didn’t happen due to a billing issue. Thankfully, a friend of mine was able to get it all sorted out and it’s a really good reminder that I couldn’t do this without such a great team supporting my family and I back at home. And NASA as well.

I was asked what originally drew me to a career in medicine. I was drawn to emergency medicine because I wanted to provide medical care on international medical mission trips to remote areas. And those medical mission trips are still so important to me that I have plans to go on a trip within a week of finishing my time at Johnson Space Center. I have a lot of great stories of things that I learned from the air, but it’s a little harder to tell stories that are G-rated. One skill important to emergency medicine, international medicine, tactical medicine, aerospace, is learning to maintain your composure and moments of intense pressure. I remember reading something in medical school that really stuck with me. It said, the first pulse you should take when you’re headed to a code is your own, while actually taking your own pulse isn’t necessarily important. I think the idea is when I was starting out in emergency medicine, I had a patient who came in with a sudden vision loss. Everyone was worried about him having a stroke and he was wearing glasses. I also remember noticing immediately that he didn’t have a reflection coming from the left lens of his glasses, and that was a side that he had sudden vision loss in. It turned out that the lens had just fallen out and that the many people who had already cared for them hadn’t noticed it somehow. So it makes you wonder, how could you talk to or examine a patient without noticing something on his face? Well, because we know that time is tissue in medicine, it often leads us to get in a hurry when someone comes in with some concerning symptoms. But when we let an intense moment take over our emotions and thoughts, we often make silly mistakes. So it’s been an important sort of lesson for me throughout my career to maintain my composure in those moments.

Nathan Jones: I think some things that could really help with Mars and humanity in the future as we continue to explore space would be to continue to work to integrate AI to improve medical care. Another idea I think would be to investigate the limits of how robots can assist with caring for patients. That’ll be increasingly important on Earth, but especially useful in space as we get further away from home. And I think for instance, that if we can learn how to have them take over some of the tasks, with them, because you wouldn’t really be able to take a full medical team with you, it’s really going to help. So can they reliably start an IV while the physician attend to other tasks? Can they secure an airway and actively manage that? And finally, one tool I’d like to see someone develop is a way to combine multiple ultrasound sources into a 3D image.

In the next month we’ll reach the two thirds milestone and Mission Day 250. My wife’s birthday also falls in the next month, and at least one of the gifts I purchased seems to have gotten lost, we’re not sure what happened to it. And so I’m working on ordering another one and the other one that I’m sure she’ll get because we already know where it is. I think she’ll get a pretty good kick out of. That’s all that I have for right now. I appreciate everyone’s interest in our mission. Have a great day.

Host: Alright, that was Medical Officer Nathan Jones. I love hearing about his connection to his family. He talked about that wonderful story of teaching his son how to tie a tie remotely and of course, always thinking about his family and their birthdays and always establishing that connection throughout the duration of his mission seems to be a theme. So it’s great to hear from Nathan. Loved his stories of his time in emergency medicine. Another very passionate person about what he does, and just understanding that story and the lesson from it. I’d certainly resonate with that. The stakes, of course, in my job, and I think many of ours, may not be always as high as emergency medicine, but always taking a beat to just sort of realize where you are and make sure you’re entering into the next phase of decision making of whatever it is you’re doing with a sense of composure, I think is just a very helpful exercise for really anything that you do. Alright, again, that was Medical Officer Nathan Jones. Last but not least here is Science Officer Anca Selariu.

Anca Selariu: Hello Earthlings and Houston We Have a Podcast. This is Anca, science officer of CHAPEA Mission 1. Well, well, we are nearly at two thirds of the mission. We have already learned enormously from this experience, but there’s still an enormous amount of data to collect and analyze. This past month, we celebrated the first ever Mars Day, which we randomly selected to be February 17. We had a special meal, which included some extra delicious butter cookies, which are my favorite. And we had fun decorating the hab with Mardi Gras, tropical Fiesta decorations because that’s all we have. Also, NASA ground support surprised us on Valentine’s Day with something extremely precious in our media-sparse, internet-free world, which is a recording of the Super Bowl event. I had fun watching it, even though I do not normally follow sports. Otherwise, we did more EVAs, more maintenance and started some really cool projects on the surface for science and life support systems.

The CHAPEA crew will return to planting and harvesting more crops in March. Pictured here are some tomato plants they grew inside the habitat. Credit: NASA
The CHAPEA crew will return to planting and harvesting more crops in March. Pictured here are some tomato plants they grew inside the habitat. Credit: NASA

For next month, I am especially excited about the return of the crops, which I have missed a great deal. Some questions from Houston We Have a Podcast are “What originally drew you to science as a career?” Well, I’ve always been mesmerized by the world and loved observing everything, ever since I can remember. I cannot ever imagine not being moved by how a collection of known and unknown forces and subatomic particles interact to create galaxies and viruses and cultures and tectonic plates, or how things move and evolve. At timescales, we have no intuitive understanding of because they’re so radically different from our own tiny lifespans. I love science because it’s really the closest thing we have to magic, because with every answer we obtain, thousands new questions arise because the mystery continues to deepen and the journey seems infinite. So as a scientist, you get to always be emerged in some fascinating story of discovery. You’re always venturing into an unknown with a childlike curiosity and open mind and unassailable enthusiasm, even when the chances of failure are 98%.

As a U.S. Navy microbiologist, I’d like to share an experience with the audience that contains a lesson that I carry with me today. One is that the Navy prepares you for a lot more than you realize. Living at Mars Dune Alpha is not unlike a deployment that takes you away from home into a remote and isolated environment where communication may not be available in real time, and where crew welfare and mission success depend on the strength of your team. Something that I keep coming across is how extraordinarily difficult it is for modern human to understand life offline. At Mars Dune Alpha, we have no internet. It’s not a temporary intermittent Wi-Fi is out type of condition. We simply have no internet for the entire duration of the mission. That is 378 days entirely offline. No personal electronics either, no cell phones, no personal laptops. You only have a delayed narrow bandwidth and size-restricted email, which only communicates with Earth with a limited number of people. And we have to be very judicious with data transmission. As a Navy scientist, I’ve had the privilege to learn to live and work offline during deployments. And being always ready and counting on your team in the absence of outside help is a life skill I’m very glad I have acquired and I believe it’s going to be absolutely essential for crewed Mars missions.

Anca Selariu: “What experiment would I want to do on Mars and how I see it helping humanity?” Wow, this is a very difficult question to answer in just a few minutes. What we know about life on Earth is that it’s resilient and resourceful and not just at an individual or a species level, but rather as a whole giant system that is about 3.8 billion years old that stretches across the planet like a patchy, uneven-skinned heteromorphic bios shell with parts that keep changing and die off and then try again all over mountains and under the oceans, et cetera.  Earth has been a playground for biomolecules and the shapes life has taken across eons puts Hollywood to shame. Life never ceased to exist in some form or another ever since it started when there was no oxygen to speak of and therefore no ozone layer and the UV radiation was blistering somehow. Life keeps finding a way. Mars seems resolutely unfriendly to complex life. Maybe some microbial extremophiles might be able to tolerate its environment because they’ve been around when Earth looked not much different and maybe learned a trick or two. Humans are simply too complex and too specialized for such a radical change of environment. What interests me is whether there is a middle ground, a way to not only build containment and protection and substance for humans, but to pre-AP Earth organisms and help them become increasingly more tolerant to extraterrestrial conditions with the end goal being to create a self-sustaining ecosystem in any alien environment in which humans may be able to find resources to survive as well.

One small step in learning—I’m imagining how Earthlings naturally adapt to deep space—is to observe what happens in a mini closed loop biological system when exposed to deep space conditions and alter gravity. Lots of questions could, again, if not answer, at least clues into how life finds ways to adapt. Ultimately, obviously, it will be a matter of narrowing it down to what is feasible and cost-effective in the foreseeable future. But I do think that posing the question from the perspective of a full ecosystem level is very helpful in developing holistic solutions to the climate challenges that life is facing now on Earth.

Host: Alright, that was the last audio log from Science Officer Anca Selariu. Always great to hear from Anca and such a fascinating perspective on the world, and I suppose the universe since she is simulating being on a different world. February 17, folks, mark your calendar, is Mars Day. I wonder if the CHAPEA 2 crew will remember this and celebrate that as established by the CHAPEA Mission 1 crew. It seems like for Anca, a lot of her excitement, she had some fascinating answers to some of our questions, but I think a lot of her passion and a lot of her excitement and a lot of her insight is in that true excitement for just curiosity. She talked about having that bug early on and it maintained throughout her entire career just a sense of just wonder and curiosity when approaching any question or solving any problem. Her answer to just some of the things to consider for, you know, how to improve life on Mars and how to improve things was just so holistic and so philosophical. It was such a wonderful and large-scale approach. I wonder what her answer would’ve been if we could have more time with her. When we first talked with her, she talked about approaching some of these problems and her mind is always thinking 5,000 years into the future, a little bit different from others. So it’s always wonderful to hear her perspective as well as the unique perspective of each of the crew. Knowing that Anca fits in with the crew and they all have this team spirit is just essential to what comprises of a wonderful Mars crew.


Host: So that’s it for Audio Log #8 from Dune Alpha. Thanks again for sticking around and I hope you are enjoying following along on the crew’s journey. Again, this is the eighth audio log in our series. You can tune in once a month to check in on the CHAPEA Mission 1 crew.

If you are interested in becoming a Mars analog crew member, applications are open for CHAPEA Mission 2, check out, that’s, to begin your application. The deadline ends close of business on Tuesday, April 2. Check out for the latest on the CHAPEA crew to check out our full collection of episodes as well as the many other shows we have across the agency. If you want to talk to us specifically, we’re on the NASA Johnson Space Center pages of Facebook, X, and Instagram. You can check out #AskNASA on your favorite platform to submit an idea for the show or ask a question, just make sure to mention it for us at Houston We Have a Podcast.

Recordings were sent in from the CHAPEA crew through February, and we had the conversation with Millennia on February 6, 2024. Thanks to Will Flato, Dane Turner, Daniel Tohill, Abby Graf, Jaden Jennings, Dominique Crespo, and Anna Schneider. Thanks to Millennia Young 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 a big thanks again to Kelly Haston, Ross Brockwell, Nathan Jones and Anca Selariu for sharing their experiences 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.