These boys are all dressed up with no place to go.
Two weeks from today, a team—made of three Russians, two Europeans, and one Chinese (with a Russian as an alternate)—will begin the longest trip to nowhere any of them has ever taken. These men will be locked in isolation for 520 days to simulate what astronauts would endure on a trip to Mars, part of a project called Mars500. It follows a 105-day test that the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems (IBMP) ran last year.
“The biggest risk of such an isolation is psychological,” said researcher Alexander Suvorov who is leading the experiment at the IBMP. “Of course relations between the crew will not always be harmonious, some will get on with others, others will not. But the priority is to be able to carry out tasks in spite of this” [AFP].
Five hundred and twenty days. By the time the team emerges from its five-module, 18,000-square foot cocoon located on the outskirts of Moscow, it’ll be early November 2011. Here in the United States, next year’s World Series will be wrapping up. The 2012 presidential candidates will be hitting the campaign trail in force. The isolation weary-crew may re-enter a world filled with high-pitched squeals as the new “Twilight” book and film come out.
The six-man crew of the Mars-500 project, which is partly funded by the European Space Agency, will spend the first 250 days in a mock spaceship to replicate the amount of time it would take to reach Mars with current technology. After reaching the [simulated] planet, three crewmembers will spend 30 days “exploring and colonizing” the planet before returning to the ship for the 240-day flight home, (deputy project leader Mark) Belakovsky said [BusinessWeek].
The simulation will introduce other difficulties expected with a Mars mission, like communication lag. The crew members can email the outside world, but they’ll experience disruptions and delays of up to 40 minutes. Even inside the complex it won’t be easy.
All crew members have a varying command of English, but not all speak Russian, another working language during the trip. “If we fail to understand each other, we will employ body language,” quipped Russian crew member Sukhrob Kamolov [ABC News].
Nevertheless, 6,000 people from 40 countries applied to be test subjects; it doesn’t hurt that the “astronauts” will all make at least $99,000 for their troubles. However, none of the participants from last year’s 105-day mission applied for this one, so perhaps being locked in the isolation of pretend space once is enough.
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Image: IBMP/Oleg Voloshin