The NASA crew living on fake Mars has given a “tragic” update midway through the year-long expedition.
The two men and women living together in a mind-boggling simulation have lost an important piece of equipment.
Dr. Nathan Jones, the crew's medical officer, said he “accidentally killed” one of their robots.
He described the accident as a “painful death.”
Anka Celario, the science officer, joked that they would need Operation Phoenix to bring their rover back from the ashes, although flight engineer Ross Brockwell assured Jones that they would be able to fix it.
“We have a lot of duct tape,” Brockwell said.
The conversation came amid a recorded update from NASA's Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analogue Study, or CHAPEA.
Jones, Celario, Brockwell, and Commander Kelly Haston volunteer to live in a 3D-printed Mars habitat for a year as a rehearsal for life on the Red Planet.
The 1,700-square-foot home is located at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
Outside the habitat, called Mars Dune Alpha, is a domed facility designed to look like the surface of Mars, filled with red dirt and rocky scenery.
The Quartet recently passed the halfway point of its 378-day isolation period, which began on June 25, 2023.
They are the first of at least three groups that will participate in studies of Mars-like isolation for human research purposes.
NASA went the extra mile to make life on the fake Mars as realistic as possible.
This includes restricting the crew's communication with friends and family via email to simulate the communication delays that would occur between astronauts and Earth from space.
Updates from the crew are also recorded as audio files to replicate unique communication limitations.
The crew also experienced various mission activities, such as exploring Mars, maintaining habitats, growing crops, exercising, and operating robots.
Part of the study also involved placing the crew under intentionally stressful conditions, such as limiting their food supplies and making them work with equipment failure.
With this in mind, it's not clear whether Jones crashed the rover or whether NASA intended to crash it as part of the experiment.
The crew can also wear spacesuits when exiting their accommodations.
Many of their Marswalks include virtual reality headsets, while an outdoor treadmill allows them to walk longer and farther than the area can handle for their activities.
Sometimes they take rock samples, while other times they look for potential building sites.
From within the habitat, they can operate a drone and a helicopter-like robot to explore remote areas.
The crew is also given the luxury of a 'window' where the view changes with the time of day.
However, it is actually a television screen with a video feed, though it reveals the sunrise on Mars, the sun above it, the shadow of the habitat cast on Earth, and ultimately the stars at night.
When they have free time, the crew plays board games, Texas Hold'em, and the PS4 video game system they brought home.
Jones also brought a Fender guitar, while Haston has a travel-sized ukulele.
The crew even started a book club to read and discuss the books they carried with them, while also enjoying watching movies and TV shows from a limited database.
When it comes to celebrating the holidays, the crew drinks hot chocolate, makes sponge cakes, and decorates them for Christmas.
In a recent update from the crew, Haston, an ultra runner, said some of their crops should be ready to harvest around the new year.
“Infuriatingly humble alcohol fanatic. Unapologetic beer practitioner. Analyst.”