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Sri Lankan among NASA’s new crew for next simulated Mars journey

18 April 2024 11:50 am - 19     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


A Sri Lankan postdoctoral research scientist Piyumi Wijesekara is among the new crew of four volunteers selected by NASA to participate in a simulated mission to Mars within a habitat at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The NASA said Jason Lee, Stephanie Navarro, Shareef Al Romaithi, and Piyumi Wijesekara will step into the agency’s Human Exploration Research Analog, or HERA, on Friday, May 10. Once inside, the team will live and work like astronauts for 45 days. The crew will exit the facility on June 24 after they “return” to Earth. Jose Baca and Brandon Kent are this mission’s alternate crew members.

HERA enables scientists to study how crew members adapt to isolation, confinement, and remote conditions before NASA sends astronauts on deep space missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. Crew members will carry out scientific research and operational tasks throughout their simulated mission to the Red Planet, including a “walk” on Mars’s surface using virtual reality. They will also experience increasing communication delays lasting up to five minutes each way with Mission Control Center as they “near” Mars. 

This crew is the second group of volunteers to participate in a simulated Mars mission in HERA this year. The most recent crew completed its HERA mission on March 18.

Two other missions will follow this year, with the final HERA crew slated to wrap up on Dec. 20.

In a first for HERA, one crew member, Shareef Al Romaithi, hails from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and will participate in the mission through a partnership between NASA and the UAE’s Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC).

As with the previous HERA mission this year, NASA’s Human Research Program is conducting 18 human health studies during the mission. The experiments will evaluate the physiological, behavioral, and psychological responses of crew members in an environment similar to what astronauts will face on a trip to Mars. Seven of these studies are collaborations with the MBRSC and the European Space Agency (ESA). Insights gleaned from the studies will allow researchers to develop and test strategies aimed at helping astronauts overcome obstacles on long missions deep into space.

Piyumi Wijesekara

Piyumi Wijesekara is a postdoctoral research scientist in the Radiation Biophysics Laboratory at NASA Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. Her research focuses on developing tissue models to investigate the effects of spaceflight stressors, including ionizing radiation and lunar dust on the human respiratory system.

Wijesekara earned her bachelor’s degree in bioengineering from the University of California, San Diego, and her master’s and doctorate degrees in biomedical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Penn. Her doctoral research focused on stem cell and organ engineering, with an emphasis on engineering lung models that mimic human lung physiology, to study respiratory diseases.

Wijesekara currently lives in San Francisco. She enjoys spending time with family and friends, running along the San Francisco Bay, reading, hiking, volunteering at the food pantry, and attending concerts and musicals.

  Comments - 19

  • Rip Winkle Thursday, 18 April 2024 01:06 PM

    In other words, a test subject.

    Vb Sunday, 21 April 2024 12:29 PM

    Your comment shows your attitude.

    Shera Thursday, 18 April 2024 01:36 PM

    She's not going to Mars, folks. This is a "simulated mission to Mars within a habitat at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston."

    Ross Thursday, 18 April 2024 02:34 PM

    Just be proud of her congratulations piyumi what archivement wish you all the very best in future endeavour...

    Puzzled Thursday, 18 April 2024 02:35 PM

    Is she a Sri Lankan citizen? For we are claiming credit for it.

    Sri Lankan Friday, 19 April 2024 03:29 AM

    It is obvious she is a Sri Lankan decent and perhaps not a Sri Lankan citizen. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka has manged to chase away all the able 'Grey Matter' from our shores BUT managed to retain the likes of Namal Rajapakse and Keheliya etc. Given this the next best thing we can do is to claim ex-Sri Lankans as our countryman.

    Tissa Fernando Friday, 19 April 2024 03:55 AM

    She is Sri Lankan origin. May be she has the citizenship too. We are not taking credit but these stories help us create self confidence or start believing in your capabilities rather than holding posters on behalf of political parties and chanting 'Diyaw' Diyaw.

    AChildOfGod Thursday, 18 April 2024 02:37 PM


    Puswadilla Thursday, 18 April 2024 03:14 PM

    When is ChiChi going to outer space in his rocket?

    Dee Thursday, 18 April 2024 07:00 PM

    Probably would have gone on a gaming console! A pretty expensive one at that!

    ANNECUNT Friday, 19 April 2024 03:45 PM


    R.M.Munasinghe Thursday, 18 April 2024 03:15 PM

    It is very great. She would bring honour to the country. I wish her allthe best in the future activities.

    Karu Thursday, 18 April 2024 04:08 PM

    These 4 people haven't been selected for actual Mars exploration. Just for research, sitting out in an isolated room for 45 days to study the hard surviving condition from them like using lab rats. Poor foreign nationals Russians, Middle-eastern and South Asian...Once again way to go America.

    Dasa P Thursday, 18 April 2024 05:03 PM

    I am so proud but you can’t beat the other Sri Lankans like Ranga Dias for their “researches”

    Chita chita Friday, 19 April 2024 02:28 AM

    And of course the might Chi Chi he has a iced so much no one can imagine

    Khmxjhcmhvv Friday, 19 April 2024 08:34 AM

    Congratulations Piyuni well done take care

    venus vinayagaratnam Saturday, 27 April 2024 08:46 AM

    what about chiChi?

    Melani Natasha Friday, 19 April 2024 07:52 PM

    She is not Sri Lankan. She may have been born here with Sri Lankan citizenship, but she and her family have lived there for so long. They are not Sri Lankan at heart anymore. Stop taking credit for these people. The only credit Sri Lanka can take is driving these people away from the country.

    Rasika Mendis Saturday, 20 April 2024 09:47 AM

    Sri Lankans, given the opportunity, can achieve much... It's a shame they have to migrate in order to live to their full potential... Congratulations to Piyumi..! Go forward achieve more! Best wishes

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