Mars 500 experiment: 520 days in isolation

Six people will spend a year and a half going through the motions of a trip to Mars. The hardest challenge will be psychological.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor

Six lucky people will spend 520 days in isolation, as part of an experiment to see how humans will deal with long-term space travel. I can't imagine how cabin fever is going to feel like for them.

One cosmonaut has even put his honeymoon on hold, so he can spend 18 months on this pretend mission to Mars.  Two Europeans - Romain Charles and Diego Urbina - are joining the newlywed cosmonaut in the experimental mission called Mars500.

The team members will be sent on a mock space flight to Mars. In space travel time, that's 250 days to get there, 30 days on the surface, and 240 days to return home.

At Russia's Institute of Biomedical Problems, the team members will have 1000 square feet of living space. And they will be free to roam around the mock replica of the interplanetary spaceship, a Mars lander, and a martian landscape.

"I’m really excited and happy having this possibility," says Diego Urbina with a big smile. "But of course I also have mixed feelings and I’m slightly worried about the unexpected things, mainly psychological, that may happen during the isolation. But these are the issues we’re most interested in!"

They will have to eat according to plan. And they can only communicate through email — the speed might be slower and worse, their Internet connection could face disruptions for nearly an hour.

These men won't be on a permanent vacations — they will have to help with maintenance, conduct scientific experiments, and get daily exercise. As the team members act as human guinea pigs for testing the limits of human endurance, their psychological and physiological state will be recorded during the entire mock flight. Besides the human element, technologies needed to accomplish manned exploration of the red planet will also be tested.

As part of the simulated mission, three members of the team will be quarantined to a module designed to mimic the Mars landing craft, while two others will be asked to explore a mock-up of the planet's surface. They will spend eight hours of each day working, sleep for another eight hours, and have the rest of the day available for leisure time, according to Elise Menand of the AFP. [RedOrbit]

Without weightlessness and radiation exposure, this 520 day stimulation might be the next best thing. After all, these men are pioneering a hypothetical spaceflight to Mars. However, these brave individuals will not have the same satisfaction of really reaching Mars. Some things you simply can't simulate.

The mock mission to Mars is expected to begin in late May or early June. The greatest challenge is expected to be psychological.

Credit: ESA

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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