Ever since her parents took her to see a space shuttle launch when she was 12, Julie Mason has wanted to be an astronaut. This past summer, she made a giant leap towards realizing her goal.
Mason, a space propulsion engineer in Boeing Research & Technology (BR&T), was selected along with three other crewmembers to spend 45 days in complete isolation as NASA researchers used findings to develop safeguards to the hazards of spaceflight.
Several months ago, Mason came across information on the Human Exploration Research Analog, known as HERA, which piqued her interest. HERA is a ground-based analog facility located at Johnson Space Center in Houston. It is used by NASA to help discover the best methods and technologies to support safe, productive human space travel by studying the effects of isolation and confinement on humans.
“NASA gave us mission timelines, every minute of the day was scheduled,” said Mason. “The purpose was to simulate what astronauts go through on long duration missions.”
Mason started each day at 7 a.m. and conducted a post-sleep activity. From there she had a daily planning conference with the HERA Mission Control Center. She was then off to her tasks for the day which consisted of duties such as system checks, payload operations and extravehicular activities. She would then break for lunch at 2 p.m. before an evening planning conference with MCC. Lights were out precisely at 11 p.m.
Via Skype and webcasts, Mason also built rovers with a group of high school students, conducted a seed experiment with homeschoolers and gave a talk to a group of middle school students.
“It was a very inspiring experience because you’re working with highly motivated and talented people,” stated Mason. “I also gained a greater sense of appreciation for the little things in life and the conservation of resources. You are constantly needing to conserve while you’re in that habitat as it was against the rules to get a resupply of resources (food, water, etc.).”
Mason felt that the 45 straight days confined in a capsule went by faster than she expected. “Our team did well. Morale was high and we supported each other. We felt like we could’ve stayed longer,” she said.