The simulated eagle has finally landed, and today, two men have walked upon the red sands of fake Mars. This jaunt along a sandpit in Moscow, the latest episode in the Mars500 project designed to test human endurance, gives the cosmonauts a respite from their past eight months of windowless confinement.
As the BBC reports:
“We have made great progress today,” commented Vitaly Davydov, the deputy head of the Russian Federal Space Agency, who was watching a video feed of the two men. “All systems have been working normally.”
Organized by Russia’s Institute of Biomedical Problems and the European Space Agency, the Mars500 project seeks to better understand how humans would endure the psychological and physical effects of the isolation and confinement necessary for a real mission to Mars. The ‘500’ in Mars500 indicates the mission’s time frame–the organizers estimated that it would takes 250 days to travel to Mars, and then allotted 30 days for surface exploration before a 240-day return trip. (Technically, the project’s name should be Mars520.)
The six crew members have been conducting experiments during their mission, which began last June, and although they communicate with the outside world via Internet, a 20-minute delay simulates actual space-to-Earth communication.
On Saturday, the “spaceship” landed on Mars. Today’s Mars walk actually consisted of two astronauts walking to a different compartment in the steel pod, but that didn’t stop the crew members from reveling in the pomp and circumstance: with due gravity, Italian Diego Urbina and Russian Alexander Smoleevskiy planted various flags in the fake martian soil. The entire walk lasted a little over an hour and, like the ride over, included virtual experiments.
Two more Mars walks are planned in the near future, before the cosmonauts spend another several hundred days of windowless isolation. But they all take this in stride, hoping that their confinement will provide useful data for a real mission–however far in the future that may be.
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