All aboard for fake Mars! Earlier today, a six-man crew battened down the hatches on an 1,800-square-foot module for 520 days of isolation as they pretend to go to Mars and back again. The Mars-500 project, run by the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems (IBMP) and funded in part by the European Space Agency, hopes to test the psychological mettle required for such a journey.
"See you in 520 days!" shouted Russia's Sukhrob Kamolov as he was sealed inside the simulator at around 1000 GMT. [Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty]
The trip will have three stages, including the trip to and from Mars and a simulated landing and planet exploration.
Psychologists said the simulation can be even more demanding that a real flight because the crew won't experience any of the euphoria or dangers of actual space travel. They have also warned that months of space travel would push the team to the limits of endurance as they grow increasingly tired of each other. [AP]
Using a variety of unforeseen (for the crew at least) simulated disasters, the project managers hope to keep the men on their feet.
Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock, a space scientist with the satellite manufacturer EADS Astrium and a strong advocate of a manned mission to Mars, believes that the experiment will be extremely valuable--but expects that the main difference between a real and simulated voyage will be the difficulty for the crew in maintaining motivation. "I think the main challenge for them will be trying to maintain motivation for a long period of time," she says. "It's far less likely this would be a problem if you really were going to Mars. But the danger is that because you know you're really in a hangar in Moscow, you start thinking: 'I can't be bothered'." [BBC]
During their voyage, the team of three Russians, a Frenchman, an Italian-Colombian and a Chinese will eat canned food similar to that on the International Space Station, have limited communication with the outside world, shower once every ten days, and play video games. One crew member brought a guitar to entertain the others. Why they didn't recruit college freshmen, we don't know. Related content: 80beats: Six “Astronauts” Prepare for 17 Months in Isolation to Simulate Mars Mission 80beats: After Three Months in a Tin Can, Three Men End Simulated Mars Mission 80beats: Six Volunteers, Living in a Tin Can, Will Simulate a Trip to Mars 80beats: Traveling to Mars? You’ll Need This Miniature Magnetic Force-Field DISCOVER: Russia’s Dark Horse Plan to Get to Mars DISCOVER: For the Love of Mars explores the Mars Society’s frontier vision