NASA Human Exploration Research Analog presentation at the john m. Pfau library

NASA has been running analogs to prepare for the eventuality of sending astronauts to Mars, and on April 19 Richard Addante, Ph.D., gave a presentation of his experiences in the Human Exploration Research Analog XIV.

Addante, an assistant professor of psychology at CSUSB, the director of the campus EEG lab, as well as a Captain in the Civil Air Patrol, started the lecture by giving the audience an overview of the mission he went on and its purpose.

HERA XIV was an analog that put a team of four scientists into an enclosed three-story habitat for 45 days on a simulated mission to land on an asteroid, all while examining the team member’s performance dealing with the confined space, isolation, and sleep deprivation. The mission took place at Johnson Space Center.

“It is one of the biggest psychological studies you can imagine to study people in isolated, extreme environments,” Addante said. “We have the rockets to get to Mars, it’s us that we need to reign in.”

Addante explained that while enclosed in their habitat, the team would then spend most of their time running various tests and experiments – from growing plants, cultivating bacteria, to running flight simulations and lunar lander simulations – all while getting at most five hours of sleep a night and dealing with isolation.

“Everybody has their limit, their breaking point, and soon the isolation starts getting to you,” Addante said.

Another challenge was having to complete their tasks while being in a small enclosed place with their crew members.

“In order to survive going from Earth to Mars and back, your team needs to survive each other for three years,” Addante said. “Imagine taking a road trip with your closet friends and family, people you really like, and never being able to leave the car.”

Infographic courtesy of NASA

Addante then went on to explain the process of applying for the program and his story in getting into the analog. He explained how when he originally applied for the program he was rejected, but was then called in as a backup, and was eventually to take the place of another team member who could not go.

His story resonated with people in the audience, like Applied Physics and Psychology major Erika Sanchez.

“It was really interesting, I’m a psychology major and it was really cool to see a Psychology professor being able to do something like this,” Sanchez said.

Addante also took time to explain the modular structure of the habitant the team lived on during the mission: it had three levels, one for their science experiments and engineering, one for them to eat and exercise in, and a smaller one that was just for sleeping.

Photo showing the ladder/elevator shaft connecting the three levels.

The habitat was outfitted with LCD screens that showed the earth getting further and further away, until they just showed stars passing by. The team also used virtual reality to act out the scenario of landing on a moving asteroid to collect samples in a simulation.

Towards the end of the lecture, Dr. Addante focused on telling the audience the lessons that he had learned from this experience.

“See all things – especially the difficult – as an opportunity, not as an obligation,” Addante said, noting it as one of the most important lessons to take from this experience. “We succeed by being selfless, not selfish, finding solutions instead of escapes.”

He explained how the mission was not just an amazing experience but a learning experience, giving him lessons he and others could apply to their lives.

Another student in attendance, Diana Semerdjian, took inspiration from his positive attitude and lessons.

“The fact that he got rejected the first time but just kept trying and eventually made it was really inspiring,” Semerdjian said.

Photo by Dustin Alexander

The presentation ended with a question and answer period, and in the end, it was an inspirational and informative event for everyone who attended.

“The future is yours,” Addante said, “here at Cal State San Bernardino we say that we define the future, well you are that future.”


All Photos courtesy of NASA unless otherwise noted

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