HADLEY — For 45 days starting next month, Will Daniels will live in a NASA space capsule with three other people, having just about everything he does monitored– and he thinks it will be really fun.
Whenever he talks about what he’ll be doing, he grins.
“I’m really excited,” he said from his Hadley apartment a day before he was to fly to the Johnson Space Center in Houston. “I think I’m going to learn so much.”
The 33-year-old University of Massachusetts postdoctoral researcher is part of NASA’s 17th Human Exploration Research Analog, a program that allows the space agency to recreate the experience of being in outer space — only with gravity.
The experiment helps the agency learn more about space travel to ultimately “improve the quality of life for astronauts,” Daniels said.
“It’s a big experiment in human psychology. It’s going to be crazy,” he said.
He said sleep will be limited from 2 a.m. to 7 a.m. five days a week and eight hours on Friday and Saturday nights. Their bedrooms are four cabinets about the size of a body, he said.
“(The intention is) to see if the schedule is sustainable,” Daniels said. “They’re trying to stress us out as much as they can to see if we can continue to perform at a high level.”
The crew will eat only the freeze-dried meals prepared by NASA and Tang. They will not be able to drink coffee after noon. They will be limited to 25 minutes of exercise every other day.
He said other such programs have looked at different variables.
NASA can’t perform these kinds of tests on astronauts in space who have too much work to do, he said.
The only time the four won’t be monitored is in the hygiene module, where they can shower, use the bathroom and wash their clothes in the sink.
“NASA is going to keep us pretty busy with tasks,” Daniels said. He doesn’t expect much down time, but the crew can bring books and games. He said once a week, they will stick their arm out to have their blood drawn, but won’t see the nurse. They will also speak with a psychiatrist by phone.
Daniels is a postdoctoral researcher at the UMass Climate System Research Center but has always been interested in outer space. As a graduate student at Brown University, friends were studying planetary geology and he got interested in space. “Going into space seemed like an exciting idea,” he said.
He is used to confined spaces, having spent two months on a research ship in the Antarctic. He thinks that might have been one reason why he was chosen for this experiment. NASA was looking for candidates who had a master’s degree in the science, technology, engineering or math fields. His compatriots are a female Air Force pilot, a female NASA intern and a male university professor. He has met them briefly by Skype, he said.
Daniels was scheduled to leave Wednesday for Houston to engage in two weeks of training.
The four crew members enter “space” May 4, return to Earth June 18, then spend a week debriefing. He is scheduled to return to Hadley June 25 for two weeks before heading to Greenland for research.
He said he will miss home while he’s gone and miss planting the garden, but, he said, “I’m going to contribute to helping get more humans into space.”
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