4 June 2010
News - Habitat (Good)
Mission to Mars (Sort Of)
Simulated mission is a go
by G B Leatherwood
On 3 June 2010, six volunteers, all men, walked confidently through the door into what will be their home for the next 520 days, the length of time it will take to reach Mars and back, plus spend 30 days in a “Mars orbiting” phase. This simulation, known as Mars500, is a joint project between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian and Chinese governments. This experiment will study the effect of long-term physical and mental stresses similar to those expected on the long round trip to the Red Planet.

The crew, French airline pilot Romain Charles, 31, and Italian-Colombian Diego Urbina, 27, are engineers by training. China's Wang Yue, 26, is an employee at China's space training center. The 38-year old Russian captain, Alexey Sitev, has worked at the Russian cosmonaut training center, and the two other Russians, Sukhrob Kamolov, 32 and Alexander Smoleyevsky, 33 are doctors. The international crew was specifically chosen because it is likely that any real Mars mission will be composed of members from more than one nation.

The “astronauts” will be able to communicate with their families and ground controllers with 20-minute built in delays to further simulate the conditions during a real trip.

This writer had the privilege of participating in a short simulation exercise at the National Space Society International Space Development Conference (ISDC) in 2001. The most dramatic and striking learning was the impact of that 20-minute delay mentioned above. For example, life-threatening situations require up to forty minutes of communication time to report the condition, receive medical consultation on Earth, then get the advice back to Mars, hopefully in time to save a life or a limb.

The isolation facility, which is based at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow, contains four different modules: the habitable (living quarters), medical, and storage modules, as well as the Mars simulator, which will only be in use during the 30-day simulated orbit around Mars. All participants will be living in close quarters, with all the stresses that this implies.

The researchers (and researchees) will have a rigorous exercise and work schedule with five days on and two off—that is, unless an emergency arises. And mission control plans to simulate more than one emergency.

The door was shut from the outside and will not be opened again, assuming all goes well, until November 2011. Food and water similar to those supplies found on the International Space Station went with them, along with video games, books, and music.

Just to make sure there is no cheating, a red string was secured across the door’s opening side, wrapped around two knobs.

For more information, see the Mars500 website.

We wish them well.
Share |
G B Leatherwood 4 June 2010
Please send comments, critiques and queries to feedback@spacefuture.com.
All material copyright Space Future Consulting except as noted.