With less than 10,000 miles to go until they reach fake Mars, the fake mission to the Red Planet is going as planned. Which is to say, the space travel simulation project known as Mars-500 project is full of mishaps and surprises, as the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems tests the fake astronauts’ ability to handle anything outer space could throw at them.
The next milestone: the fake arrival in Mars orbit on February 1.
And for being confined to a 1,800-square-foot test module for 520 lonely days, the crew members are doing a stellar job. In their last update, published on the official Mars-500 website on January 14, they give a terse but positive appraisal of their condition:
226th day of the experiment. Scientific equipment is in operable condition. Clarification for implementation of special experiments is carried out. There are no alterations of health state which can interfere with participating in the experiment and realizing of scientific program.
The list of experiments is long, and they’re all meant to test the many difficulties involved in actually traveling to Mars, from astronauts’ overall health to their sleeping patters, as well as the psychological effects of their confinement and isolation. The crew charts such things as the efficacy of their physical training, the amount of salt they’re consuming, and how they’re functioning as a team. Of course, as we’ve mentioned before, this terrestrial simulation can’t examine certain serious issues that a Mars mission would have to deal with, like astronauts’ increased radiation exposure and the physical effects of prolonged weightlessness.
In December, a “crisis” struck that is probably the nightmare of many an astronaut: the electricity in the module went out. Of course, every mishap is planned by the Russian engineers on the outside, but the astronauts don’t know when and how set-backs will happen. As one of the astronauts wrote in his diary:
We didn’t know how long it would take for the engineers’ team to solve the problem. So, to save some power on the emergency batteries and to avoid any new issues, we unplugged all the electric devices and we even removed the bulb of some security lamps which weren’t needed. In the end only two lights remained: one in the kitchen and one near the bathroom.
The astronauts pulled together, didn’t panic, and did the only thing they could do in such a situation: trust that the engineers would figure out the problem. By the next morning the power was back, which goes to show that overcoming fake mishaps in a fake mission can lead to real rejoicing.
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