Asclepios analogue space mission and its purpose

What is Asclepios?

Asclepios is a project led by Space@yourService, an association recognized by EPFL which aims at organizing a space analogue mission. It is the first initiative worldwide of a space analogue mission totally made by students, for students in collaboration with academic institutions, scientists as well as the industry. Asclepios has several purposes such as recruiting students and training them for it in conditions similar to that of real astronauts, provide a scientific platform for bachelor and master thesis research as well as promote communication on space advancements.

Who are you and what triggered your motivation to be part of Asclepios?

My name is Eleonore Poli, I’m 26 years old and currently enrolled in my second year of PhD in Material Science at the University of Cambridge. I come from Lausanne where I did my undergraduate at EPFL and then moved to Zürich where I studied mechanical engineering at ZHAW. I’m a passionate about space. Once, I saw a Space Innovation post saying: Do you want to become an astronaut? That’s how I discovered Asclepios and applied for the mission. What triggered my motivation was really to meet people sharing the same interest, nourishing the same passion to test my own commitment.

What is the mission about?

The mission is replicating a lunar base, where 6 astronauts will try new technologies in analogue space conditions. It enables also to learn how to manage a team, especially how to manage mental and physical health. To be part of ESA or NASA missions is exceptional but rare, so analogue ones give a chance to more people to experience what it feels to go to space.

The location is quite remote to avoid aliens (aka visitors) to come and enter the base. For that reason, the mission will take place in Grimsel, located at an altitude of 1730 meters above sea-level in the granitic formations of the Aar Massif. It is reached via the access tunnel of the Oberhasli AG (KWO) hydropower plant. It is part of a geological research center and was initially used for radioactive storage. It’s quite similar as lava tubes that you try to find on the Moon or Mars as natural shelter for humans.

The mission will take place in July 2021 and last approximately 2 weeks. Indeed, we have to go inside the base, to get a training and then start the mission. We will only communicate with the mission control during the day, with a strict flight plan, every hour of the day is planned.

What’s your role within this project?

I’m part of the 6 analogue astronauts going in the base with the additional responsibility to be the commander for the crew. It means that I have to take critical or urgent decisions in case something unexpected happens during the mission. Until now, my role was mainly about keeping the team motivated, guiding them and to care about their health and well-being. This position teaches a lot about my own weaknesses and strengths and how to deal with it. I’m an engineer but now I have to learn about human emotions and how to manage people with empathy. This human side is as much important as the technical part, especially that my position was voted by the crew and approved by the whole team. I have also helped in finding partners and in the recruitment of astronauts for Asclepios II.

What does it involve preparing such a mission, what are the main pillars of its realization?

It involves a lot of discipline, organization and foresight. First, you need to have the right idea, to know exactly what’s the aim and which path will lead to that goal. Once the mission is clear, it’s about finding self-driven and passionate people to make it happen. Asclepios couldn’t exist without people who believe in doing the impossible, such as organizing a space mission in just 8 months!

Asclepios is a non-profit organization working with sponsors. For that reason, a well-designed communication plan is required to convince external stakeholders to involve in this amazing project. A panel of experts give the association a go or non-go on the basis of the Critical Design Review. All aspects of the mission are presented ranging from logistics to team members. Only few months after, a second step validation is called the Qualifying Design Review and dive into details to give a final decision. So far Asclepios always passed the reviews thanks to the careful upstream preparation made by all students.

What kind of testing are you doing during Asclepios I?

The aim is to determine whether the protocols and experiments designed in laboratories are adequate when it comes to space conditions. During the mission, we will collect data through NASA psychology tests and social interactions in the analogue base to see how body and mind could influence space missions. The last category of experiments is about testing products, technologies and systems aimed to be used in a spaceship. Those include spacesuits, food stuff, drone and IDUN Technologies’ electrodes. I’m sure IDUN could bring essential insights to astronauts.

What does the mission mean to your journey in
life and career path?

The mission helps me in meeting people with a similar liking for space and ambition. It helps me in understanding if I’m fit to become an astronaut, not only via the trainings but by an assessment of my performance in isolation. So far, I’m really fulfilled by the experience and it enhances my will to become an astronaut. If you’re happy to dedicate all your holiday time to the analogue project rather than relaxing on a beach, if you agree to give data from your body and your mind, then you’re already slightly different from the rest. Commitment is key to apply for ESA or NASA and analogue mission is a way to test your motivation and to keep on track by exchanging with fellows.

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