Six weeks, 4 people and a 636-square-foot spacecraft

University of Wyoming graduate student Matthew Lehmitz is a candidate to join NASA’s Human Exploration Research Analog mission. If selected; Lehmitz will live and work for six weeks locked in a 636-square-foot simulation of a spacecraft; allowing NASA to study how humans perform in the cramped; isolated conditions likely during prolonged space travel.

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Gandy

Before NASA sends people to Mars or other far-away destinations, it needs to study the conditions in which humans can live and work during long periods of isolation, living in a cramped space with others.

Matthew Lehmitz, a University of Wyoming botany student working toward a master’s degree, said he hopes to take part in this pre-spaceflight research by participating in the space agency’s Human Exploration Research Analog project, also known as HERA.

“I do not yet know when I will go or even if I go,” Lehmitz said. “I qualified as a test subject candidate during my last trip to Houston but, like any competitive selection process, not all candidates will end up being chosen to participate.”

At the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Lehmitz passed a two-day testing segment. He was also expected to meet a number of basic requirements, such as being at least 6 feet 2 inches tall, having a healthy psychological profile, demonstrating interest in skills outside his discipline and attaining some level of postgraduate education.

Because HERA is testing the effects future spaceflight conditions might have on astronauts, it is important to have the test subjects closely resemble astronauts, which is why the basic requirements are essentially the same requirements NASA has for astronauts.

As a fan of Star Trek, Lehmitz always loved the idea of going to space, said his sister Sarah Nelson.

“(Lehmitz) has always been intrepid and exploring,” she said. “ … And he’s always been fascinated by space in particular. I think it’s probably because it is the most undiscovered frontier out there.”

If selected to participate, Lehmitz will spend six weeks locked inside a 636-square-foot simulated spacecraft with three other people.

“During that time, we will engage in tasks similar to those that will likely be performed by long duration spaceflight crews,” he said. “These range from running science experiments to cooking meals each day. We will need to handle stressful situations and continue to maintain strong team cohesion and professionalism under pressure.”

The prospect might seem terrifying to some, but Lehmitz said his enthusiasm for the science would help him maintain a positive, constructive outlook.

“I have my concerns about living day after day in a tiny and confined space with three other people,” he said. “But any trepidation is far outweighed by my excitement at such an opportunity to participate in real and valuable space science.”

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