Living on Mars: Pacific alumnus to lead a simulated space mission
Julio Hernandez '16 is preparing for an analog astronaut mission, where he will live in a simulated Martian habitat for a two-weeks.
The University of the Pacific alumnus will join five other graduate student "astronauts" at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah to conduct scientific research to support the future of human space exploration.
"Participating at the Mars Desert Research Station gives our team a chance to get as close as possible to an actual mission in space, with a good amount of realism," said Hernandez. “I'm excited for the opportunity to test myself in a simulated environment of a mission to Mars.”
The Mars Desert Research Station is a space analog facility, owned and operated by the Mars Society, which supports Earth-based research in pursuit of the technology, operations and science required for human space exploration. The campus is composed of six structures that house laboratories, living quarters, greenhouses, workshops and a solar observatory.
Hernandez, a graduate of Pacific's School of Engineering and Computer Science, will be the crew botanist during the mission
"The role of the crew botanist goes along with my interest in sustainability," explained Hernandez. "It's important that we find a way to have a sustainable presence in space from a habitation perspective. Finding a way to grow our own food, get water and have enough air will allow us to not only go to space, but be able to stay there."
During the mission, Hernandez’s research will focus on studying how different soil compositions affect plant growth yield. Due to the mission’s short time frame, he will only see the early stages of germination for the plants.
Hernandez is also looking to cultivate plants in a hydroponics bay, which will allow him to tailor the frequency of light toward a specific plant in the chamber to maximize its growth.
Hernandez became interested in sustainability as a student when he participated in Pacific’s Cooperative Education Program, an experiential internship for engineering and computer science students.
"I was able to work at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory," said Hernandez. "I'm so glad to have had the opportunity to get work experience before graduation because it gave me insight into solving real-world problems and fed into my interest in sustainability."
Hernandez hopes to build off his experience at the Mars Desert Research Station and follow his father's path to become an astronaut. Jose Hernandez '84 is a former NASA astronaut and American engineer.
"We are trying to create a real-life lineage of astronauts, who are space explorers like the Kirks in Star Trek," Hernandez joked.
If Julio’s plan is realized, the pair would become the first official father-son astronauts to go to space.
The elder Hernandez expressed immense pride in his son and shared some advice:
"I told him to focus on the work that you need to do because you are there to serve a purpose," said Jose Hernandez. "But, I also told him to enjoy the leisure time when you can because being able to decompress is an important part of your daily routine when in space. Otherwise you will mentally fatigue yourself."
"A lot of the focus of space travel is studying how we will get there," explained Julio Hernandez. "I like to think about how do we stay and continue to grow in those environments? Because that is the key to how we will travel and explore even further in space."