“There will always be challenges, but don’t let them change your goals. Find a way to turn the situation around,” says analog astronaut Julieth Contreras.
For five days, Julieth Contreras Venegas experienced what it would be like to live on Mars. The mechatronics engineering student from the School of Engineering and Sciences at Tec de Monterrey’s Sonora Campus participated in the Mars Habitat project, held in the rural area of Caiçara do Rio do Vento, very close to Natal, Brazil.
Together with four other Latin American students, she explored a volcano, nursed a greenhouse, conducted research for future space missions, and much more.
The student tells Tec Review how she discovered that space engineering was her passion and mentions the upcoming international projects in which she will represent Mexico.
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An analog astronaut is someone who lives in locations on Earth that simulate the conditions of humans living on the Moon or Mars.
NASA and other international agencies plan to develop human bases on the satellite and on the closest planet to Earth with the aim of inspiring young people to be part of missions as engineers and astronauts.
Julieth was invited to live and survive with other young people in the region, under a strict routine based on diet, exercise, and research activities established by the Mars Habitat Project.
The daily routine consisted of getting up at six in the morning, getting dressed, keeping records of measurements such as blood pressure and weight, exercising (in addition to other activities such as coloring mandalas or painting planets), going to pick fruit and vegetables in the garden to prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner and then completing an assigned task.
This was how 20-year-old, Julieth Contreras Venegas spent a typical day on the Mars Habitat analog space station, on mission 121, which took place from May 26 to 31 of this year in Natal, Brazil.
“It was interesting being thousands of miles away from home, with people I didn’t know.”
The students were from Brazil, Chile and Mexico. Julieth recalls learning their stories, and as the days passed, she saw them as a family “in which we shared the same passion, pursuing the same goal.”
During the week of the experience, each crew member had an assigned task to coordinate with the others.
Julieth was the director of research projects, someone else was responsible for the BioHabitat greenhouse, and others were in charge of monitoring the team’s health or being the captain of the mission.
While carrying out “extravehicular activities” which were what they called the expeditions outside the station, they had to go out with a special suit and helmet.
They walked for two hours to explore the Pico do Cabugi volcano, taking rock samples to analyze its composition. They visited Lake Ceres, conducted astronomical and satellite observations, helped tend to the farm, and contributed to the construction of a new shelter for future crew members.
As the research project director at Mars Habitat, Julieth –along with her colleagues– proposed topics that contribute knowledge to space exploration for real missions.
They were able to do some research, as there was a library and internet access at the station. The topics proposed included one on horticulture, another on the relevance of missions and how space technology contributes to improving life on Earth, and another on how people’s perception of the planet changes when they travel to space.
If approved, the Tec de Monterrey student will attend the International Astronautical Congress in Paris, France, in September to present her research results.
Julieth Contreras was also selected to participate in a mission that will simulate living conditions on the Moon. It’s the Analogue Astronaut Training Center in Krakow, Poland.
“I’m going to live with colleagues from Europe, a culture that’s very different from that in Latin America.”
In this habitat, all the activities will be inside the station, since both the CO2 levels and the temperature will be similar to the lunar environment.
“At the end of the mission, some experiments will be carried out on flights that achieve microgravity. It’s great to be able to test your research projects in those conditions.”
Julieth said that when she was a child, she played at being her dolls’ teacher, explaining science topics to them and telling them that they had to get on a spaceship to save humanity because life on Earth was no longer viable.
Mathematics and physics were always easy for her, so she knew that she wanted to study something related to science since middle school, but along the way she encountered some challenges. There isn’t a space engineering degree in Mexico, which is what she really wanted to study, and she also switched from studying medicine.
“I attended classes for three weeks, but I decided to switch to mechatronics. Studying electronics, mechanics, and programming has helped me a lot.”
After graduating, she wants to study for a graduate degree in aerospace engineering and will look for an exchange internship in a specialized company.
She dedicates this message to women who want to be engineers:
“Find the path you like the most and that makes you happy. “There will always be challenges, but don’t let them change your goals. Find a way to turn the situation around. If you are persistent, you will reach the goal.”