Illinois doctor chosen for year-long simulated Mars mission

An Illinois physician is going to Mars... sort of.

He is one of four people selected by NASA to live in a Mars-simulated habitat for a year. 

For Dr. Nathan Jones, an emergency room physician from Springfield, this will be the simulated journey of a lifetime. 

"I saw an advertisement on a website that said, ‘You want to go to Mars?’ and I thought, ‘Well that does sound exciting. Maybe I do want to go to Mars,’" said Dr. Jones.

For 365 days, a 3D printed, 1,700 square foot simulation habitat located at the Johnson Space Center in Houston will be home for Jones.

"They have restricted food in what would be Mars-realistic. They have a timed delayed communication in what would be earth," said Dr. Suzanne Bell, NASA’s Behavioral Health and Performance Laboratory.

The only things NASA can't simulate are Mars' gravity and the six to nine-month-long commute to get there. 

"We will be doing a lot of research as far as the food systems, exercise systems. They've announced that they're going to be throwing some curves our way as far as we might come across problems with the water system, and we'll have to solve them with the communication delay," said Jones.


Jones was selected along with three other individuals, including a research scientist from Canada, a Virginia structural engineer and a nurse from California, so that NASA can study how they react, behave and perform.

"Outside of it, we have a sandbox where they can replicate doing extracurricular activities on the Mars surface, and we'll also be using virtual reality, so they can go beyond the sandbox without breaking the isolation," said Bell.

So, what will Jones miss the most about life away from Earth? 

"A couple of my kids give the best hugs so that's going to be hard," said Jones.

Because any crew going to Mars will face up to a 22-minute communication delay with Earth, that means if there's a problem, they won't get an answer for 44 minutes!