NASA experiment sends local man into space … kinda

Have you dreamed of travelling through space? UMass Amherst Post Doctoral Research Associate William Daniels is doing the next best thing this month and next  spending 45 days cooped up in a tiny space with three other people.

Daniels, 33, of Hadley entered what he called “the habitat” on May 4 (“May the 4th be with you,” he says) as part of a NASA experiment to test software they plan to use on space missions and having psychologists observe how people might react to longer space flights.

The habitat. Photo courtesy of William Daniels

“I think that human space exploration is very important and I’ve always wanted to be a part of that,” Daniels said in an interview before he left on his trip.

Daniels was selected from a large pool of applicants and completed a physical and psychological examination, which he said included answering 200 fill-in-the-blank questions and using virtual reality goggles to test for motion sickness.

“It was five hours of answering questions that got to my inner psyche very quickly,” he said.

The space he has been living in is a small space, about 20 feet in diameter with two levels, so he is always within sight or earshot of the other three people in the experiment. There are two men and two women involved, he said.

William Daniels

Daniels said he respects what unmanned robots have been able to accomplish in space exploration, but that humans in space can work faster than any robot can, he said.

Daniels has some experience with being adrift for a long period of time. He took part in a two-month research cruise in the southern ocean around Antarctica. The major difference was that there were more people  between 50 and 60  on a much larger ship.

In order to get to the planet Mars, astronauts would have to travel between six and eight months, Daniels said. For Daniels’ mission, the crew will simulate a trip of three weeks out and three weeks back.

“It’s somewhere in between the Moon and Mars,” he said. “It’s pretty far, but not too far.”

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at deisen@valleyadvocate.com.

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