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The next frontier:

Hera. Speak her name and most think of the infamous Greek goddess and wife of Zeus; but now thousands of years after ancient Greece, her name has a new meaning. Meet the HERA X and her crew.

At the Johnson Space Center in Houston is HERA. The Human Exploration Research Analog, part of NASA's Human Research Program, is helping NASA move from lower-Earth orbit to deep space explorations. The kicker? HERA never leaves Earth. An analog causes physical and mental effects on the body that simulate those experienced in space, but just how real is it?

One of the four would-be astronauts is Lt. Cmdr. Oscar Mathews. He explained what it's like to live in the HERA module for 30 days straight without ever leaving Earth.

"It's the minimum amount of space four people can occupy and still stay sane over the course of a month, a year or three years," said Mathews. "A day starts around 0700. And mission control usually plays a short track of music and it really helps motivate us, just like they do for the International Space Station, so that's a tradition they do."
Three photo collage (L-R): HERA X crew; HERA X patch; HERA X module.

HERA is unique, with a three-story habitat research laboratory containing an airlock, medical station, work area, flight deck, four bunks, kitchen and a bathroom. Though there they cannot mimic microgravity or weightlessness, the HERA X crew will be able to experience the effect such as ingress and splash down. The experiments that will be done during the HERA X mission will assist NASA scientists in addressing risks and gaps associated with human performance during spaceflight.

HERA X crew is made up of four men selected from Johnson Space Center's Test Subject Screening pool. The HERA crew launched their mission May 2 and safely completed "splash down" June 1 after 30 days confined within the spacecraft.

The HERA missions are used to assist future deep space explorations, including possible missions to Mars.
Four photo collage of LCDR. Mathews (L-R): looking in microscope; in astronaut gear; in HERA X module; outside HERA X.

"Find what fascinates you," said Mathews for people who are interested in going into space. "You really have to love what you do. If you love being in a very high paced environment, if you love using the math, go into engineering. Figure out how engineers use math to make things that get people from Earth to the Moon and beyond."

The data NASA collected from the crew is vital for the next step of space exploration.

It's our hope right now is that NASA can take the data they've collected from us and use it for future space missions. We can think at least in some small part we've helped contribute to exploration of humanity's long-term sustained presence in our solar system." -Lt. Cmdr. Mathews

Just like real NASA space missions, HERA missions got their own patch as well. HERA X took place during the anniversaries of Gemini 10 and Apollo 10, each of which used the Roman numeral "X" on their patch and HERA X continued the tradition.

This is a button used for reaching the stars.