Six men from Russia, Europe and China are preparing to spend 520 days together in a sealed-off warren to take a simulated trip to Mars to test how long isolation would affect humans.
On June 3, three Russians, an Italian-Colombian, a Frenchman and a Chinese man will be locked up in a set of cramped compartments as the record-breaking Mars500 simulated flight to the Red Planet gets underway to last until November 2011.
"This 520-day flight to Mars ... is unprecedented in its overall duration," Martin Zell, European Space Agency (ESA) head of the experiment, told Reuters.
"I think when talking about a human mission to the Red Planet, it will probably still take 20 or, more likely, even 30 years to go there," said Zell, who is also in charge of ESA human missions to the $100-billion, 16-nation International Space Station (ISS).
The six men, allowed just three square metres of "personal space" each at the facilities at Moscow's Institute of Biomedical Problems, will follow a seven-day week, with two days off, except when special and emergency situations are simulated.
The crew, to be led by a Russian, will live and work like ISS astronauts, and their life will resemble that of Station members: maintenance, scientific experiments and daily exercise.
During the "surface operations" after 250 days, they will be divided, with three moving to the Martian "surface", while the other three stay in the orbiting "spacecraft" for a month.
Paving the way for the future
Last year four Russians, one German and a Frenchman successfully completed a 105-day simulated trip to Mars at the same institute.
This time, the six-men crew will also be monitored closely, and their psychological and physiological parameters will be recorded during the mission.
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.
Communication with Earth will be only via e-mail, with connections occasionally disrupted. It will include a maximum 40-minute delay, as on a real Mars mission.
The six upbeat "astronauts" did not conceal their emotions, despite the fact that none of them will probably ever make a real trip to Mars.
China's Wang Yue, the only crew member trained as a professional astronaut, mentioned competition in space -- in line with Beijing's ambition to launch its crew to Mars one day.
"I think Mars500 must be a milestone in the human space race, in human space history," Wang told a joint news conference. "Space exploration is difficult and huge, it needs international cooperation, so I am lucky to be here."
Other crewmembers shared his sentiments.
"If I can put my small brick into this big wall linking Earth to Mars, I will be very proud," said Frenchman Romain Charles. "Hopefully my grandchildren will go to Mars one day, and I will be able to tell them: 'I was part of it.'"
ReutersLast Mod: 19 Mayıs 2010, 08:30