Would A Mission to Mars Drive Astronauts Insane? Six Earth-Bound Volunteers Aim to Find Out.

By Brett Israel | October 24, 2009 9:16 am

mars-global-image-webThe European Space Agency is looking for six brave volunteers to sit in locked chamber for 520 days to simulate the isolation of a space flight to Mars, a trip that in real life would take around 900 days. The ‘mission’ is part of the Mars500 programme being conducted by ESA and Russia’s Institute of Biomedical Problems (IBMP) to study human psychological, medical and physical capabilities and limitations in space [Physorg.com]. But what will scientists actually learn from locking these folks up for a year and a half on Earth, especially when the real mission is close to twice as long?

Although the volunteers will simulate a Mars mission as best they can, the most dangerous aspects of space travel won’t be replicated–like, for example, the radiation from cosmic rays. Volunteers will also be able to walk out at any time if they feel unsafe, which isn’t an option on a real space mission. At least one researcher argues that scientists could learn more by studying the historical diaries of long distance explorers to learn how people cope with stress while traveling through the unknown. Other scientists say studying people in Antarctic research stations, nuclear submarines, or astronauts aboard space stations orbiting Earth would be better strategies. Still, there are many things the Mars500 experiment will reveal that historical records cannot. Volunteers will undergo an array of tests that will monitor stress and hormone levels, immune response and sleep patterns, as well as group dynamics [New Scientist].

Space mission simulations have been conducted in the past—a similar 105-day study just ended in July—and they often have interesting results. In one event that made the news on a space mission simulation in 2000, a man twice tried to kiss a woman against her will. As a result, locks were installed between different crew compartments [New Scientist]. These simulations sound like a scientific version of the T.V. show Big Brother.

Better hurry if you want to sign up, the deadline is November 5th!

Related Content:
80beats: After Three Months in a Tin Can, Six Men End Simulated Mars Mission
80beats: Presidential Panel: Space Travel Plans Are Broken
80beats: The Real Problem With a Human Trip to Mars: Radiation
80beats: Buzz Aldrin Speaks Out: Forget the Moon, Let’s Head to Mars

Image: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems

  • http://lablemming.blogspot.com/ Lab Lemming

    Why don’t they just join the Navy and serve on a submarine?

  • Sab Harharah

    If the volunteers are fully aware that theyre doing this for a study unlike the astronauts who know whats waiting for them, the results will never come close to the real thing.. of cos we’ll learn a little .. Im still thinking abt it ..

  • joel

    catholic monks. The stricter sects wouldn’t find sitting in a small room with 4 or 5 others for 5 months to be difficult at all. Some sects do that anyway. Plus being removed from society, alone in space, on a potentially deadly mission doing hard work in isolation: that’s basically what Benedict did when he started his rules. Problem solved.

  • http://www.eprocurementsoftware.org/ E-procurement software

    They should think about it many, many times before they do it. It’s not easy being isolated from the world for a long time.. May God bless them.

  • Mike

    Mars is dusty and boring anyway, with little chance of life. I think it’s a waste of time. Do you really care of they scoop up some fossil microorganism that might have evolved millions of years ago? How will that help us in our quest for understanding the universe? I have no doubts that life has or is evolving somewhere else.

    We have so much undiscovered and endangered life here….some of the most alien things we could ever imagine and the Earth is getting run down and polluted.

    We should spend these billions of NASA and Space Agency $’s to help things out here first, then go play in space when we understand and better control (environmentally) over our home world.

  • Jordan

    They should send married husband/wife astronaut couples. That way everyone has reliable companionship. A psychiatrist should also accompany them.

  • antique folklore

    It’s abit disquieting to see the churchy posts above. With the earth bound body count so high due to religious power and strife, I am glad we are still galactically grounded.

  • Cattfish

    I saw a twilight zone episode where a guy was doing just this experiment and went crazy

  • The Mikeness

    @Jordan: Who accompanies the psychiatrist? Actually, astronauts are typically so highly educated that chances are, one of them already HAS a degree in psychology. Or, they could just include a buttload of ebooks in the shuttle, and they can read about psychology along the way.

    Give me a wage, a computer, (and maybe a spare :P) and enough time to download a years worth of stuff to do/read, and I’ll do your little test for 520 days…


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