NASA monitors two British adventurers who trek 2,500 miles through Antarctica to determine if humans might one day be able to live on Mars.
Former soldier Justin Packshaw, 57, and 37-year-old doctor and ex-Army medic Jamie Facer Childs are trying to reach the continent’s most isolated spot, the so-called Pole of Inaccessibility, in 80 days.
They set off three weeks ago and are working with NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and Stanford University to discover how people cope when pushed to their limits.
Researchers believe that the hostile conditions and desolate landscapes are most similar to what future explorers might encounter on missions to the Moon and Red Planet.
NASA is monitoring two British adventurers – Justin Packshaw, 57, and 37-year-old Jamie Facer Childs – as they trek across the Antarctic to learn whether humans could one day live on Mars
Jamie Facer Childs, an ex-Army soldier and Packshaw, a former soldier, are trying to get to the Pole of Inaccessibility on the continent in just 80 days.
Packshaw, Childs and their companions undergo two weeks of tests to determine how the journey has affected them psychologically and physically. They also have samples from saliva, blood, and faeces stored for monitoring their immunity systems.
The pair are also wearing smartwatches to keep an eye on their vital signs, stress levels and quality of sleep as they endure temperatures of -31°F (-35°C) and 100mph winds while traversing ice crevasses and glacier fields.
‘It is a proper old-school adventure, long in duration and unsupported,’ Packshaw, who has climbed Everest, told the Times via satellite phone as he discussed his Chasing The Light mission.
“When Mother Nature moves her muscles here, it is quite impressive to see.”
Packshaw and Childs don’t have any mechanical aid and rely solely on manpower. They travel on foot, on skis and with a 200kg (440lb) sled.
NASA will also test the eyesight of the astronauts as part its research into “psychophysics”, which studies the relationships between physical stimuli and sensations.
People are often surprised by unfamiliar landscapes such as Antarctica. One NASA scientist refers to the Apollo 14 mission of 1971.
Three weeks ago, Packshaw and Childs left for the United States to study how humans cope with being pushed beyond their limits.
Researchers believe that the hostile conditions and desolate landscapes are most similar to what future astronauts will encounter on missions to Mars and the moon.
Edgar Mitchell, an astronaut, and Alan Shepard were aboard the moon. They estimated that a massive crater was between 600-900 feet away.
The two men attempted to get to it in order to take samples, but they turned around when they realized it was more than one mile away. Later they discovered that they were only 50 feet from the crater’s rim.
Senior scientist at Nasa Human Research Programme Dr Katherine Rahill said that it is likely due to the difficulty of lunar surface explorers in seeing changes in the topographical depth. She also added that the Antarctica’s vast white landscape would present similar problems for polar explorers.
Researchers are gathering information about the environment and not just monitoring the explorers.
Packshaw & Childs are measuring radiation, ultraviolet light, general meteorology, temperature, wind speed, snow density, etc. every day.
According to their website, Antarctica’s environment is “much like extreme conditions found in planets within our Solar System,” it states.
“Justin’s and Jamie’s mission will enable scientists to see a rare scientific story about human adaptability. This will eventually contribute to ongoing mapping of genetic, physiological and environmental data models for human-centred space exploration.
Packshaw and Childs will be subject to tests two times a week in order to assess the impact of their journey on them psychologically and physically. Samples of saliva, blood and urine are all taken and stored.
On the Chasing the Light website, you can see the explorers’ statistics, such as calories burned, stress levels, and heartbeat. This map depicts their current location and shows the journey they have taken.
A separate research project that involved scientists stationed at remote stations in Antarctica examined the effects of space travel on astronauts’ health.
During their South Pole stay, the isolated researchers experienced symptoms of depression and anxiety.
However, the most noticeable change in the subject’s emotions was the continuous decrease of positive emotions like satisfaction, enthusiasm, or awe from the initial mission through its end.
Over a nine-month period, the psychological health of each patient was observed. This included winter’s harshest part.
Antarctica’s extreme environments share a number of stresses with their cold depths, such as isolation, confinement and monotony.
Packshaw and Childs expect to finish their journey before February 1.
Their stats, including calories burnt, stress levels and heartbeat can all be tracked alongside their progress at chasingthelight2021.com.