Before humans will go to Mars, NASA has practice missions on Earth. The SIRIUS missions are the latest spaceflight analogs NASA is utilizing to help us understand the risks of travel further into the solar system. This ground-based analog is a complement to human research being conducted on the International Space Station, such as Scott Kelly’s One-Year Mission. These missions are paving the way to learn how the human body reacts in unique environments.
An analog environment is a situation on Earth that produces effects on the body similar to those experienced in space, physically, mentally and emotionally. These studies are expected to help advance human spaceflight from lower-Earth orbit missions into deep space exploration. NASA is associated with at least 15 analog environments throughout the world. The SIRIUS analog takes place at the Institute for Bio-Medical Problems (IBMP) in Russia. Other NASA-associated analogs are in Germany, Canada, Antarctica, and at sites in the United States.
The SIRIUS (Scientific International Research In a Unique terrestrial Station) missions are the first time NASA’s Human Research Program (HRP) partners with Russia’s IBMP Ground-based Experimental Complex (NEK) to conduct a series of analog missions. The first of these missions is SIRIUS-17, named because of its 17-day duration and it will take place in 2017. The mission is to begin on Nov. 7.
“The SIRIUS-17 mission, from a NASA perspective, is designed to test the capabilities of the Russian facility,” said Lisa Spence, Flight Analogs Program Manager. “We want to exercise the facility capabilities, mission planning and integration procedures to identify challenges or issues now as opposed to during a longer duration mission.”
The goal is for NASA to work with the IBMP to conduct at least three follow-on missions: a four-month mission in 2018, an eight-month mission in 2019, and a 12-month mission in 2020.
SIRIUS-17 will have six human participants who will be isolated and confined in a mock-spacecraft habitat for the mission’s duration. During the mission, they will be performing a suite of scientific experiments. Training for the crew began the week of Oct. 9.
One of the reason NASA chose the Russian facility is that it is a dedicated facility. This means that during the mission, its purpose is to execute the simulated space missions and research activities targeted for an isolation environment, according to Spence. “Also, they have done successful long-duration isolation missions at the IBMP facility in the past, even up to 520 days. They have demonstrated the ability to do the type of missions we are planning to work up to,” she said.
More than 40 scientific experiments have been selected for SIRIUS-17, which will place significant demands on crew time. HRP personnel developed a unified science requirements document, which helps in the development of the mission timeline, and maximizes the science data capture.