Astronauts' 18-month 'mission to Mars' ends in car park
One of the world's most gruelling isolation experiments is drawing to a close in Russia after six men spent almost a year-and-a-half locked up in a mock spaceship simulating a mission to Mars.
The six volunteers of the Mars 500 experiment will see daylight for the first time in 520 days today when the hatch to their "ship" in Moscow is finally opened.
"They will breathe in and experience a completely different world and a completely different air," said Alexander Suvorov, head of the scientific laboratory monitoring the experiment. "Even the air outside has a different taste. They will sense this keenly."
The all-male crew -- three Russian, one French, one Italian-Colombian and one Chinese -- signed up to the project for the equivalent of €74,000 each. The hatch on their pretend spaceship, a Soviet-era space training facility located in the car park of a drab Moscow scientific institute, was sealed shut in June last year.
Since then, they have lived a strictly regimented life, imitating a real-life return flight to Mars. The idea was to study the effects of such a journey on humans in anticipation of a real mission to the planet -- even though that reality is still decades away. Earlier this year the crew simulated a landing on Mars with three men carrying out mock spacewalks in a sandpit wearing spacesuits.
Mission Control has simulated prolonged power, equipment and communications cuts to see how the men cope. When available, email and other communication with Mission Control has been delayed by up to 20 minutes -- what it would be in deep space.
For leisure, the men read books, learnt foreign languages, watched DVDs, played video games and were allowed to watch delayed news bulletins "from Earth". They also had an on board greenhouse.
Like real-life astronauts the men celebrated Christmas, New Year, and Halloween. But the men did not have to learn to cope with zero gravity.
Romain Charles, one of the crew members, wrote on his blog: "We are happy and proud to answer positively to the question: 'Is man able to endure, physiologically and psychologically, the confinement of a trip to Mars?' Yes we are."
The project was organised by the Moscow-based Institute for Medical and Biological Problems in cooperation with the European Space Agency and China's space training centre. (© Daily Telegraph, London)