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]
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].
Yesterday, Russian engineers cracked the wax seal on a metal hatch, and six men emerged from the simulated space capsule where they had spent the last 105 days in experiment designed to simulate the isolation of a manned trip to Mars. The experiment is part of a larger project dubbed “Mars 500.” The three months the men spent in isolation are a precursor to another simulation to take place in 2010, when another crew will submit themselves to 520 days in isolation, the projected time it would take for a return trip to Mars [ABC News].
The four Russians, one German, and one Frenchman were chosen from among 6,000 applicants, and were paid about $21,000 each for participating. Inside the mock capsule, they conducted experiments to test their physical and psychological reactions to the isolation, and performed many of the tasks that would keep Mars-bound astronauts busy. They had no television or Internet and their only link to the outside world was communications with the experiment’s controllers — who also monitored them via TV cameras — and an internal e-mail system. Communications with the outside world had 20-minute delays to imitate a real space flight [AP].
Today four Russians, a German and a Frenchman walked into a mocked-up spacecraft and swung the metal hatch shut behind them. If all goes as planned, that hatch won’t open again for 105 days. The six men have volunteered to spend more than three months in isolation to simulate the experience of a manned flight to Mars. The crew will subsist on freeze-dried space rations and will clean themselves with wet wipes; they’ll also go without smoking, alcohol, TV, and internet. Their only link to the outside world will be communications sessions with the mission control and an internal e-mail system. Communications with the mission controllers will have 20-minute delays to imitate a real flight [AP].
This project is a warm up for a much more ambitious experiment, scheduled for December, which will see another group of volunteers spending over 500 days in the same conditions. With current technology it is estimated that a return trip to Mars would take at least 18 months [Telegraph].
The current experiment won’t simulate some of the most daunting obstacles to interplanetary travel, like increased radiation exposure and the physical effects of prolonged weightlessness. Instead, it will focus on the psychological impact of isolation from the outside world and close proximity to just a few people. “Working in such conditions requires that a person be able to check himself, evaluate his condition in relation to the crew and in relation to mission control and be able to correct himself,” said Boris V. Marukov, the experiment’s director and a former crew member on the International Space Station. “He will be a psychotherapist for himself” [The New York Times].